Novel for NaNoWriMo 2012
My story starts with legends, parts of the past that people only remember through words. Even the youngest kids know the story of the Slayer. She is known by many names but none of them are her real same. Some call her the Eternal Liberator, others the Doom of Salvation but most simply know of her as the Slayer.
Five hundred years ago she raised her sword, not against a bandit or a king but against the very Gods themselves. One at a time they fell before her blade. First it was Xeenil the Soul Forger. Next it was Demji the Harvester. The pantheon rose up to fight her but their powers washed over her like water and one by one they were slain. At the end only two God remained to oppose the Slayer. Zillk the Hope Ender and Enturmar the Radiant. The greatest of the Gods fought against the Slayer and the result was disastrous. All three died.
The Gods were dead, the Slayer was dead, and the world was flung into chaos. The Gods were dead but their power was not gone. Apostates, humans wielding a portion of the dead Gods powers, appeared and used there power to influence the world. Kingdoms rose and fell and nothing was the same.
However all of that is ancient history, something that happened five hundred years ago. Yet the Apostate still exist and the legacy of the Gods is not so easily forgotten. This story is really about two Gods. The first is Zillk, the Hope Ender whose blade pieces the Slayer’s heart just as her blade pierces his. The second is Eyyo, the Cloaked Betrayer whose name is never spoken in legend, the forgotten God. Forgotten yes, but not dead.
I broke through the glass of the window on the second story just in time. A jet of fire followed me out the window but gravity managed to grab me fast enough and pulled me out of the way of the flames just in time. I reached out and grabbed at the ledge of the inn and managed to hold one for a couple of seconds before my own weight pulled me free from the ledge and I fell tumbling to the ground. I had slowed my fall just barely enough that I managed not to break anything and in a daze I stumbled to me feet and began running away from the Juggling Jester, the inn I had rented a room in.
Looking over my shoulder I caught a glimpse of the man who was in my room. One of the Apostates of Yulf the Burning Rage. His hand was clutched at something around his neck. It was also certainly a golden amulet in the shape of the Sun, the medium that let him channel the power of the dead God Yulf.
Unfortunately the part of my mind that puts these logical pieces together was cut short by three people blocking my escape. They each had a large cudgel and looked ready to inflict some kind of horrible pain on me. Since I’m rather allergic to pain, it makes me break out in large black and blue bruises, I decided I would rather not get beaten up by these three people. I doubted however that the small knife at my belt would dissuade them so rather than face them I decided that escaping would be the valorous and merciful thing to do.
I turned back toward the other way and ran. That however turned out to be a mistake. That way lead out to the main street and near the main entrance to the inn. I was more shocked however when I saw the man I had seen on the second story walk through the front door on the inn. How had the managed to get downstairs so fast?
I’m sure I made an easy target for him. It was past midnight and the streets were deserted. The moon shone bright and so did the large ball of fire that his was holding in his hand. I took a moment to contemplate my bad fortune before I dropped at fast as I could, barely managing to again avoid the fire that the man through at me. There was no way I could stand up to one of the Apostates of Yulf with only a small knife. If I had a crossbow with metal bolts maybe, but in the current situation things were stacked against me.
Rather than deal with him I reconsidered my acquaintance with those lovely cudgels in the alleyway. I scrambled back to my feet and ran back toward the alleyway. To my pleasant surprise it seemed to be the last think they expected, probably because it was absolutely insane. I managed to rush past the first one before the were able to do anything about it. The second one took to long and I was able to grab his cudgel and push it just enough that he lost balance and fell backward. The third one however was a stout woman waited until the right moment to thwack me with her cudgel. I managed to block it with my back so while it knocked the wind out of me hurt all kinds of ways I managed to avoid breaking anything… I think.
Stumbling the best I could I pulled away from the assailants and past them, putting them between me and the Apostate of Yulf. The brutes however might turn out to be a more immediate danger. I’m not exactly what one would call well muscled. Some might call me weak or delicate but those people would be crass and tactless. I prefer to think of myself as conditioned to a life of pleasures. Which is why my current situation was so dire to me. A month ago I never would have dreamed of being caught in an alley with three brutes and an Apostate.
Perhaps I should explain myself better. I am, or used to be, Lord Friddnick of Korfield. It was a lesser noble title but a noble title no-the-less. I had a fine country manor, prosperous lands, servants who would cater to me, and a reputation of being a kindly lord. Like many other lords I would divide my time between the courts and my lands, although I’ll admit that I spent more time at the courts then some of the other lords. Either way battling roughions and Apostates in the street the the last thing I would be expecting to do. Of course that was before I became an Apostate myself but now I’m getting ahead of myself.
My doom started at the summer festival. Really it was a commoner festival but it was an excuse to drink so I usually held audience in the town to enjoy the atmosphere. Some of the wealthy merchants in the town used it as an excuse to offer me drinks and convince me to fund whatever recent endeavor they were attempting. It usually worked. I am really far too kind and generous. That year however an old woman came for audience. I was… let’s say slightly tipsy at that point so I didn’t noticed those around me quieting as she approached.
I recognized her an an Apostate of Ulvarious the Enigmatic Watcher. Had I had wits about me I might have forbid her approach. Because of this have have sworn never to touch alcohol again, I’ve been mostly successful in that endeavor. She approached me and spoke in a croaking voice. Despite how the alcohol clouded my mind at the time I still remember what she told me. It is still burned into my mind as crystal clear as if it was yesterday, maybe that was part of her power.
“Haunted Hunted Noble, Dread Dire Fate. Fiendish Forgotten Awakening.
“All will crumble around you. All you hold will vanish. All hope will be lost.
“Hidden behind the veil is the one who hunts you and who you must hunt.
“You will reach out your hand to the void and two will take it.
“Before you is the Slayer, beside you the Hope Ender, and behind you destruction
“Woe, woe, woe. Your legacy will only be terror, hate, and fear.
“Break the world a second time, Free the world a second time, Doom the world a second time
Her words caused a chill to run down my spine when I heard them and somehow I knew that they would be true. Like her saying them make them written in stone and unavoidable. I’m sure everybody else had the same feeling because when I looked around I could feel them all staring at me waiting for me to say something, to do something, to doom them all. Trying to disbelieve I denounced the woman as fraud and called my guards to send her away but everybody remembered that feeling, the truth behind her words.
The next few nights for me were sleepless, I couldn’t close my eyes without hearing her words echo in my head again. Finally partially mad from the haunting voice and the lack of sleep I ride off alone trying to free myself of that disastrous prediction. How could I, a frivolous noble, be connected to the Slayer and the Hope Ender. It was ridiculous, impossible, and true. I tried denying it in my head as I rode to the only place that I thought could answer my questions.
My family has been lords in this land for generations, since before the Slayer’s time. However after the Reckoning had shook the earth we had move from the older family keep to a large manor. The keep had been abandoned for decades but after the woman’s words I was drawn there like a moth to a flame. Somehow I knew that the answers to my questions would be found there. I never should have gone.
Decades of neglect has left the place little more than a ruin. Parts of the walls had collapse and I had to get off my horse to traverse the rocky ground leading up the the keep. I picked my way through the keep looking for anything that might tell me what I wanted to knock, what I needed to know. I finally found myself in the old chapel of the keep. It looked even more dilapidated than the rest of the keep. It had a strange feel to it. Since the Slayer’s time the Gods have been dead and there have been no need for chapels. The were many ruined statues around the edges of the room, monuments to the dead Gods.
I found myself standing in front of the broken statue of Zillk, the Hope Ender. It had been cracked at mid chest, like the Slayer herself had pierced this statue’s heart with a sword causing it to shatter. Who knows, maybe this statue did break when Zillk died. Stranger things had certainly happened. I looked at the statue expecting something to happen, like a glow of light or a mysterious voice. However nothing happened, the Gods were dead after all. They could no longer speak to human or command them.
It was disappointing really. I reached down into the rubble of the statue and lifted part of the broken statue. It was the hand of Zillk, in the original statue he was probably raising his hand above his head. In his hand was a circular band of metal. The statue’s arm was broken at the elbow and the band of metal was bent slightly. I remembered reading that Zillk’s empty band of metal represented lose, of emptiness. Among his many other meanings, Zillk was the god of remorse.
I was about to set the broken part of the statue down when I heard somethings from the entrance of the chapel. It was a footstep which made me look up and toward the sound. It was a cloaked person, a man probably, standing in the entrance of the chapel.
“It is unusual for someone to pay attention to dead Gods.” Said the cloaked man. He stood there in the entrance watching me. I couldn’t make out any of his features but there was a sword on his belt. That told me a lot about the man, not of it seemed good.
“Not as unusually as a mysterious cloaked figure showing up in my ancestral estate on the same day that I just happen to visit. Especially one with a sword.” I stepped back, still holding the broken part of the statue of Zillk in my hands. Maybe I could use it to defend myself in some way. I really should have learned swordsmanship like my father had wanted.
The man made a soft chuckling sound that made him feel even more dangerous. “I suppose that is true. However Lords don’t often go riding off alone without guards. I would say this is a rather special case wouldn’t you say Lord Friddnick of Korfield?”
I instantly regretted letting my emotions get the better of me over the last few days. As a noble it wasn’t surprising that I was being targeted. It probably came down to money. There were a couple of likely reasons I would be targeted. The first was kidnap, they capture me and hold me unless they are paid large amounts of money. The other option was worse, one of my rivals could have hired the man to eliminate competition. At that moment it seemed the more likely of the two options.
I gulped and tried to take a step backward. However I didn’t move, I felt like I was rooted to the floor. My thoughts were race and fear bubbled up inside of me. I felt petrified as the man began walking toward me. I wanted to run, to escape, to bolt to my horse and ride back to my well guarded manor. Yet as the man stepped closer and closer to me I still couldn’t move an inch.
Then there was a small breeze, just a little one that made the man’s cloak flutter showing his hands for a brief moment. I caught the sight of something golden in his hand and I felt my stomach drop out from under me. I knew then that the man was an Apostate, of who I did not know but that realization made me understand it I wasn’t rooted to the floor in fear, that man was preventing me from running.
Gold, such a dangerous substance. When forged into the right shape it let Apostates tap into the energies of the dead gods and use their powers. There was other ways but gold was the easiest and most powerful. It was one of the reasons that gold was one of the most heavily regulated metals.
Yet despite my newfound realization I was still unable to move my body and could do nothing while I watched the man get closer and closer. I couldn’t even open my mouth to scream for help, not that there was anybody to come.
The man’s smile was barely visible beneath his hood and he calmly moved his free hand toward his sword. “I see you have figured it out. But that doesn’t matter, there is nothing that you can do.” There was the distinctive sound of a sword being drawn from a sheathe.
I wanted anybody, anything to help, even the dead gods would do. I didn’t wanted to die there at the sword of a bandit Apostate. Maybe my desire was heard, maybe I just had nothing else to lose. Just as I had finally condemed myself to death and the man raised his hand I felt the finger of my right hand twitch, the fingers that were tightly clutching the broken hand of Zillk.
My hand raised, partially of my own volition and intercepted the falling sword. There was the clash of metal against metal and I felt blazing pain in my hand. Knocked backward by the force of the blow I slammed into the stone wall behind me.
Whatever power that was holding me seemed to have vanished and I tried scrambling away from the Apostate. The pain in my hand was incredibly intense but I began scrambling away as fast as I could. The man seemed to be surprised that I had managed to block his strike but then he began to laugh, a crazy hysterical laugh.
“Excellent, excellent. You did it, you really did it. I didn’t think it was going to happen but you did it. Now do better, you can, I know it.” He lifted his blade and looked at my blood that was coating it. Then instead of walking he ran toward me. However just before he reached me he looked to one side and then dived to one side as a crossbow bolt passed through the place he was going to be.
“Lord Friddnick, get down!” Came a loud voice. The big man with and equally big crossbow stood in the doorway of the chapel. Next to him was a woman wearing a chest-plate and a sword at her side. She rushed in toward the Apostate however her movement froze mid run toward the man. The man pulled himself to his feet and looked at the two intruders.
“It seems that I took too long. Your little guardians have arrived. Don’t worry though. We will meet again Lord Friddnick and next time I will make sure that you die.” The man with the crossbow pointed it again at the Apostate however his movements too froze just as he was about to pull the trigger. Then the man just walked past them, leaving me kneeling in the chapel.
Once he was gone to the other people rushed toward me and began helping me up. I recognized them of course. Sir Nathan and Sir Janet, both knights in my personal guard. They must have chased after me when I left the manor and followed me here. Had they been minutes slower I might not have survived. I wanted to thank them for saving me but now that the danger had passed I slumped and feel into blissful unconsciousness.
I woke in my bed sorer then I imagined I had ever been before. My hand ached like it was on fire and my head rung like a thousand bells. I reached out to grab something and somebody grabbed my hand.
“No, my lord, you need to stay in bed. You are not well yet and you hand has not yet healed.” I barely recognized the voice of one of the house keepers of my manor but it relaxed me and I fell back onto the bed. I was still trying to cope with what happened.
The days passed and I slowly recovered. My hand had been badly wounded. The Apostate’s sword hand cut through the metal band in the statue’s hand and into my flesh. It had slowed the blade just enough that the sword had stopped at the flesh. No permanent damage, at least that is what I had been told. My guards had given me a strict talking to about how I would worry more about my safety. I planned to take their advice from then on.
It was the fifth day after the injury that I managed to get well enough to continue my normal lordly duties. For the first time in what seemed like ages I dressed myself. I opened the small wooden box that held my signet ring before lifting it and placing it on my finger. A chill ran down my spine as it slide onto my fingure.
For the first time I was distinctly aware that my signet ring was primarily made of gold. A ring of gold that was the same shape as the band of metal of Zillk. My head throbbed with intense pain, more than I had ever felt before, even more then why my hand had gotten sliced. Again I collapsed into the ground. I could see things through my eyes while my body fell. Things were burning around me, people screaming, blood spilled everywhere. There standing in the vision was the cloaked Apostate laughing madly.
Sweating I controlled my body the best that I could and pulled the ring from my finger. What had I been shown, the future? And what had I become, was I now an Apostate, one of Zillk? I didn’t know but I knew I had to hide it. Being an Apostate was not technically illegal most places but they were feared and distrusted almost universally.
I slipped the ring into the pocket, my head now clearing after that strange vision. It shouldn’t have been a prophetic vision, I didn’t believe that was part of Zillk’s domains. However it was hard to tell for certain. The god’s domains seem to be hazy and overlap almost constantly. Zillk was supposed the Hope Ender, associated with fear and despair. Not a pretty god, although there didn’t seem to be many of them, on of the reasons historians think the Slayer picked up her blade.
Zillk was also often associated with dead and the afterlife, if that even existed anymore. He was also associated with various types of violence no that that was unusual for any of the gods. I managed to climb into a chair and kneaded my brow trying to think. I was a noble, a soft friendly noble, but a noble never-the-less. There was also was scandal or another about an Apostate noble and it was generally grounds of being stripped of our lands, it they got caught.
I could put away my signet ring or get a new one made or a less dangerous metal but both of those might be noticed. I could secret figure out how to use this power to get an edge against the other nobles and if I did that the face that my signet ring was a focus would be an advantage. Nobody would suspect me of being an Apostate. That line of reasoning was dangerous though, Apostates tended to wield dangerous powers which could get to there head and make them think they were unstoppable, or even gods themselves.
No solution seemed to be good. For now I decided to hold onto the ring and avoid using it unless I had to. I was afraid that time would come to soon. If the cloaked Apostate’s showed up again I would be in danger and if he could stop people from protecting me then that would be even more risky. I needed a secret edge in case the worse happened, and considering my vision I feared that the worse was all too likely.
Concerned that I was taking so long one of my maids peeked in on me. I raised my hand and smiled at her to dissuade her worry, “Sorry, just some sudden fatigue, I will be better in just a moment. It seems I am still not completely well.” She just nodded and I was grateful when she shut the door. It took me a few minutes longer to compose myself and leave my chambers.
The ensuing days were relatively peaceful. I dealt with several issues that the estate had been dealing without me however my steward had done a fine job without me. It almost felt that I had been unneeded. With my totally rational fear of getting on the dead end of a sword fight I tried to convince Sir Janet to teach me how to use a sword.
She agreed however her condition was that I wait to fully recover before risking myself in the training. Disgruntled I was forced to agree with her. While I was much better I still had trouble going through the entire day without feeling fatigued. The ring may have been part of that. I avoided touching it as much as possible because each time I had to fight back the strange visions and slitting headaches.
It was nearly a month since my encounter at my old family keep when on of the rangers told me the bad news. The rangers are a squad of scouts that are in the crowns servitude. They watch the borders of the kingdom and ensure that nothing is amiss through the kingdom. They protect the kingdom but they also serve as the King’s eyes and ears throughout the land.
I was initially worried when they visited me. Maybe they had found out about the ring and that I had become an Apostate. As far as I knew that was impossible, the only way to identify an Apostate was to see them use their power. However if I was wrong and there was a way… however that wasn’t that case this time. They came with different grim news.
Today they came to tell me that the orcs were gathering. It was terrible news indeed. Orcs had not gathered in decades, not since my father’s time and this time it seems that their forces were even larger then that time. All the border lands were in danger and while my fiefdom was not the closest it was still at risk from orc invasion. It would still be monthly likely before the orcs invaded but all the nobles were expected to gather their soldiers and provided support for the king to defend the lands.
Something in my head whisper, the ring maybe?, that it was all too convenient. The threat of orc invasion just after I had been attacked. I wasn’t sure how it could be too convenient, how could the attack on me be connected to the orc. It made no sense and I didn’t want to risk putting on the ring to find out more.
However the King’s orders were law and I had to gather up my soldier and travel with them south to the border. While I didn’t technically have to go with them, my knights could have been in charge without me, I didn’t want to stay nearly unprotected at my manor. It might have been more dangerous to be near the battle line but somehow I felt more conforming away from the manor. The scene of the manor burning and the man laughing still felt fresh in my mind.
“Is everything alright my lord?” It was Sir Nathan’s comforting voice and he rode beside me on the way south.
“It is nothing. The thought of the orc invasion lays heavily on my mind.” I said absently.
“Like it does us all, but you have just seemed more distracted recently.”
“It is nothing of importance. Right now we need to think about the job at hand and making sure to protect the kingdom?”
Sir Nathan smile wryly, “Is it about Lady Kindeily then?”
“What… no…” I sputtered trying to find words. With everything that had happened she had been driven mostly out of my mind… No, not exactly. I had been avoiding thinking about her. What would she think about me being an Apostate? I wanted to avoid that question as much as I could.
“Of course not.” He say in a disbelieving tone. “My lord would not normally join us on the front line. Are you trying to earn her favor by showing her how heroic you are? It will probably take more then that to earn her favor. She is a renowned swordswoman after all.” Sir Nathan laughed, “Is that why you have been asking Sir Janet to teach you the sword too?”
I grimly smiled at him. “If only I had the luxury to learn the sword for that reason. Nathan…” I paused, “I’m afraid.” There were very few people I could confide anything too but I felt like I could trust Sir Nathan, at least a little bit. “That man, that Apostate, might be after my life again. I was terrified that I would die before you and Janet recused me. I…” I trailed off not wanted to continue the sentence.
Sir Nathan must have understood what I meant however, “I understand my lord.” He changed the topic but only slightly. “Still you haven’t seen Lady Kindeily recently. With the orc invasion you may not see her for even longer.”
“She would have been called to send her soldiers to aid the king as well. We might see her there.”
“That isn’t the same and you know it. Business and pleasure don’t mix well. You should invite her to visit your manor while the summer is still good.”
“I’ll think about it.” I said as none commitedly as possible. There was not adequate explaination for me fear. Normally I would be happy to invite her to join me for something. She was usually too busy to join me, her fiefdoms were larger than my own, but one rare occasions she had enough time to indulge in my whims. There should be no way for her to tell what had happened to me but I was afraid anyway.
Sir Nathan however just grinned and said, “Good, it is settled then.” Like my non-commitment had somehow been agreement. “I’ll make sure that one of my men finds her and delivers the message to her.
I glared at him angrily. I sort of wanted to punish him for his initiative but he was a knight. I couldn’t punish him over such a minor thing, especially when he technically wasn’t disobeying me orders. Plus he was my friend and as annoying as he was he had my best interests at heart, probably… he might just think my embarrassment was funny.
Noticing my glare he turned his horse and rode a little bit away from him. He motioned one of the soldiers and began talking to him, probably giving the orders to invite Lady Kindeily to something. Acting before I could give him an order not to, classic Sir Nathan. I sighed and let him do it, he was probably right. Seeing Lady Kindeily would probably ease my anxiety.
Out of some nervous fear I reached into my pocket, and gritting my will, touched the golden signet ring inside. It was could to the touch and unusually didn’t blade me with headaches and indecipherable visions. Instead I felt a deep sense of fear, like a deer who had spotted the hunter. In that terrifying moment I realized that we were surrounded. I screamed as loud as I could,
“Orcs, ambush! At our flanks!” It was just in time. Arrows flew out of the trees at my men. My moments warning saved many of their lives. They ducked or brought up their shields fast enough. A couple however were too slow and fell as the arrows sprayed blood everywhere.
The dark green skinned monsters broken from the underbrush carrying spears or axes. My men turned on them and a bloody battle erupted around me. My memory of the engagement is indistinct at parts, I remember Sir Janet pulling me off my horse to get me clear of arrow fire. She pushed me into one of the wagons and I stayed there huddling with screams and war crys are my only company.
There was the moment of absolute terror as one of the orcs pulled back the wagon cloth and climbed into the wagon with me. It has a small bloody axe and there was madness in the thing’s eyes. In instinct and desperation I grasped the ring in my pocket so tightly the I could feel the metal bitting into my hand.
In a way nothing had before suddenly everything seems to make sense. The orc thought he had an easy target, it was wrong. It swung the axe down at me and I grasped the handle just above its hand with a speed that I didn’t realize that I hand. A quick twist and the orc was forced to let go of it.
I kicked the orc shoving it back a foot and I lifted the axe and brought it down at the monster. However I didn’t hit its head or chest, no that would be too quick, instead I hit the leg. The was the snap of breaking bone and blood splatter over the floor of the wagon and over my clothing. I didn’t care.
I could see it now. The orc realized what was happening to it. It realized that it was losing. It tried to move backward but its broken leg collapsed under it. I drew back the axe again and brought it down this time on the orc’s arm. It howled in pain, something that I felt was musical and lovely. It was scared, scared of me and that felt wonderful.
Finally with a slow deliberate motion I raised the axe one more time. I paused for a moment savoring the orc’s expression before bringing it down into it’s skull. There was a moment of near silence, and I came to my wits. The scene flashed through my mind once again and I released the handle of the axe with a sick realization. I released m grip on the ring in m pocket and scrambled out the back of the wagon.
I heaved into the grass and things became dizzy to me. The next moments were a blur before I remember Sir Nathan finding me hidden behind a rock after the battle was complete. “My lord, all you all right. We were worried when we found the dead orc in the wagon. What happened?”
I shook my head trying not to remember. I have always considered myself quick witted so I was able to come up with a lie. “I don’t remember. The orc came in, attacking me. I think one of the soldiers saves me while I escaped” It sounded false on my tongue but Sir Nathan seemed to buy it.
“Your all right and that it what matters. Please let me help you up. We need to get to safety. There may be more orcs around. We have already lost a fourth of the men and even more are wounded. We might not survive another ambush.”
I nodded and let him help me up and leading me to my horse. Sir Janet was there too although her shield arm was in a makeshift sling. There were a small fire burning the body of some of my men. Sir Nathan looked gloomy when he way it. “They deserve a proper burial but there isn’t enough time. Better to burn them than let these monster desecrate the corpses.” I numbly nodded in approval. A few minutes later I was on my horse and we left the battlefield behind.
Sir Nathan and Sir Janet let the soldiers because I was still too much in shock to give commands. I remember them taking a different route than we initially planned. Less travels roads and keeping more alert.
“How were there orcs this far inside the kingdom?” I remember Sir Janet saying.
“I don’t know, to think a group that big managed to sneak past the main encampment and the king’s rangers.” Came the voice of Sir Nathan.
“If there was more than that group then the villages nearby might also be in danger.”
“That is only if they haven’t already been attacked.”
“Still we should send riders out to them to check on them and to make sure they are aware of the threat. If they have notice they should be able to defend themselves.”
“Agreed but it will be dangerous. Some of the riders might be ambushed.”
“A necessary risk.”
I managed to clear my head and sit up enough to give them an order, “Do it. The people must be warned. Also send a rider to the rangers to make sure they now.”
They both nodded. “Yes my lord, we will see that it is done.”
I rode for a little longer after that before I couldn’t ride anymore. While not comfy I took lodging in one of the wagons (not the one I killed the orc in) for the rest of the journey.
My dreams were wracked with horrible visions. I watched myself in third person doing terrible things and each time I smiled and laughed as I committed one horrible act after another. Then there was a moment of calm where I stood on an empty field. There were flowers flowing in a pleasant breeze which felt pleasant on my skin. There was a small house sitting off in the distance. It was made of bricks and smoke was rising from the chimney.
I looked around no longer certain if this was a dream or not. I was dressed in some of my usually clothes except that I felt a weight around my neck. I looked down and there was my golden signet ring with a chain passing through it functioning as a necklace. I reached up to grab the ring but my hand trembled and my fingers shook and I couldn’t bring myself to touch it. Slowly I lowered my hand and brought my attention back toward the house.
I walked toward it with a strange feeling of apprehension like I was walking toward something dangerous. I walked up to the door which door which was made of wood. The whole house seemed small to me but that was probably because I was used to living in bigger. This place was probably sufficient for most commoners. I reached out to open the door but thought better of it and instead knocked on it.
“Come in. I’ve been waiting for you.” Came a woman’s voice from the other side of the door. I hesitated once more, that felt more like a command then I felt comfortable with. I couldn’t back out now so I pulled the latch on the door and stepped inside. It was a cozy room, just a small bed, a fireplace with a pot on it, and a dresser. Near one of the windows was a pair of chairs and sitting at one of them was a woman.
At first she seemed very normal, a peasant woman in a simple dress. However that felt more like an illusion then anything else. She was well muscled, strong and lean. Something about the way that she looked at me made me feel like she was sizing me up to see how dangerous I was. I involuntarily stepped back before composing myself. She reminded me of Lady Kindeily, dangerous and lovely.
“Don’t dawdle and take a seat.” She commanded and I obeyed. No reason to disobey her that I could find. There was a sneaking suspicion that that feeling would grow on me however. Her words were that of a natural leader. “Your Zillk’s chosen I see.” A plan cold statement that made me cringe.
“I’d rather not be an Apostate of Zillk is I had my way about it.” I said. I didn’t really feel like there was a reason to hide it. Dreams, or whatever this way, probably would just ignore me if I lied and it seemed pointless to lie to this woman.
“Apostate? Is that what they are being called? An interesting choice for a name. You could of course get ride of your conduit. Cast it away and you would be done with it. Be free of the power it holds.”
“I can’t, it is my signet ring. I couldn’t dispose of it or replace it without somebody getting suspicious. My only choice it to keep it.”
“Not your only choice.” She said with dead certainty. “You would be free of it if you left your lands and abandoned your duties. You choose to baer iit because you are afraid to lose all that you are. Am I not right.”
I grimaced but couldn’t refute her statement.
“Or you could depose of the ring and deal with the suspicions as they arose. Yet you choose to not do that either. I will not call you a coward, what you chose is valid but do not pretend that it was your only choice.”
I struggled to reject her argument but my voice was numb. Instead I said something completely different, “Who are you? Is this a dream?”
“For you this is a dream. For me this is a place that I wait.”
“Wait? Wait for what?” I couldn’t help myself from asking.
“Wait until my task is complete. Only then will I rest.”
“What task to you need to complete?”
“I must break the shackles that the Gods have on the world. Only then will people truly be free.”
I gasped for words trying to answer my own questions. Finally the words came to me answering the question that I had about her identity. “Then you are the Slayer.”
She didn’t say anything at all in response but I could tell that it was true. Who else could she be. The Slayer who killed the gods should be dead but then who was I speaking to. Was she a ghost maybe or was my dream reaching beyond into the world of the dead. There were so many questions that I didn’t know where to begin.
Finally I spoke, “Why am I here?” It was the first question that mattered.
“You are one of Zillk’s chosen, I mean Apostates. Of all the gods he was the one that I was the closest too and the one that slayed me. It is only appropriate that I use his Apostate to finish the task he prevented me from completing.” It sounded completely unreasonable to me but reason didn’t apply to the slayer.
“Complete your task? What task could you have remaining after slaying the gods?” I asked. There was silence. She simply didn’t speak and just watched me. The gears spun in my mind as I tried to find the answer to my own question. Finally the words came to me and I said, “Unless you didn’t finishing slaying the gods.”
She smiled, “Very good. You can think. I would be very disappointed if I had to answer even the simplest questions for you.”
“But they are gone. The only influence that the god have in the world now is what their power is doing in the hands of the Apostates. If some of the gods were alive wouldn’t somebody notice?” I said.
“There is one that I failed to kill, one that I never found. Eyyo, the Cloaked Betrayer still lives. He was the most clever of the gods who hide himself when he was threatened. He still hides himself, cloaked behind the actions of his servants. You think the things that are happening now are by chance? No it is the Cloaked Betrayer that is pulling the strings behind the scenes.”
“Eyyo? Now that is a god whose name I have never heard before.”
“Not surprising, the name was cloaked in mystery when I was alive. That it is even less known now is hardly surprising. However he is real and he is still alive. With no other god to oppose him he will run rampart over the world until he only controls it.”
“Any you want me to stop him? That’s impossible. He’s a god. I may have become an Apostate of Zillk but there is no way that I would be able to kill a god.”
“You will do it. You have no other choice.” She commanded. “I was able to kill the rest of them. I think you will be able to handle just one.”
“But you’re the Slayer. I’m just, well, a noble, and a rather ordinary one at that.”
“You will stop him. I know this because it is your only option for survival. He has alright made attempts on your life. You do not want him to succeed so you will kill him before he is successful.”
“Already made attempts on my life? You mean that…” I left it hanging but she refused to answer the question. Just like before she was making me put together the pieces of what I already knew together. “It was him that sent the assassin at me? Maybe even the one behind the orc invasion? But why, I wouldn’t have become an Apostate of Zillk had he not attacked me.”
“The Cloaked Betrayer has many plans and fallbacks but he can not see the future very clearly. He knew you would become an Apostate of Zillk so he sent an assassin to kill you. Maybe you never would have become an Apostate had you not been attacked there, or maybe you would have awakened to the power anyways. But he did attacked you and you give gain the powers of Zillk. He might have even expected it, planned for it, and has worked you into his plans.”
“Then what could I do to stop him?”
“Break his hope. Of all the gods few could go against the Hope Ender. All if futile against and impossible enemy. Even I fell victim to the Hope Ender just as he fell victim to himself.”
I shivered as I answer, “But I don’t want to use Zillk’s power. It frightens me, terrifies me. And while it was happening I liked it. I don’t want to be like that.”
“Then it is simple. Change it.”
“What?” I wasn’t remotely thinking she would respond like that. Maybe ‘Suck it up’ or ‘Make a choice’ but ‘Change it’ what could she possibly mean by that. However she didn’t seem to want to answer my question.
Instead she said, “It is time for us to return to the land of the living. Your soldiers need you and you will have trying times ahead during the orc invasion. Make sure that most of your men live through it.”
“Us?” I asked but just as I did the world swam and shifted before my eyes. All except the Slayer who had reached out and grabbed my hand. I could feel the warmth of her hand almost like she was still alive.
“My Lord, My Lord, awake up, we have arrived.” Came Sir Nathan’s voice as it woke me from my slumber. I raise me head snapping myself out of the strange dream. I shook my head a couple of times trying to decide if it was real or not. It still seemed to clear in my mine the conversation with the Slayer. Was she really expecting me to fight the last surviving god?
“Yes Sir Nathan, I’m awake. We are at the main force’s camp then?” I said as I pulled myself to my feed and began to leave the chart.
“Yes, but it is bad. We aren’t the only group that go ambushed on our way here. Others were attacked by orcs as well and many of them are worse off then us. Lord Andolus lose practically all of his men.”
“Lady Kindeily? Is she alright?” I asked concerned.
Nathan smiled devilishly at me before responding, “She is fine. Apparently her unit was ambushed but they got away without any casualties. The soldiers said that she fought off five orcs all by herself and I’m not going to be the own to doubt it.”
I relaxed, “That is good to here.” I stepped down from the wagon. Several of the men were already setting up tents. There were soldiers all around us, an entire army of people. I hadn’t seen this many soldiers together before, any army this large has not been risen since my fathers time after all. “Is there going to be a strategy meeting soon?”
“Tomorrow I hear is when it is going to happen. Several of the outlining lords have still not arrived. Once they are here the King’s general will call the lords and knights together to explain the situation. I’ve been told that it will happen even if some of the lords are missing. Already a couple who were expected to be here haven’t shown up and we fear the worst.”
“I understand. If you haven’t already make sure to inform the general of our arrival. And make sure all of the men’s injuries are taken care of. Now is better before we have to deal with orcs.”
I spent the new couple of hours helping my knights organize the rest of my soldiers. I honestly didn’t do much compared to them. I generally had more luck understand money and economics then war. Still I had received classical noble training so I wasn’t completely useless.
When I finally returned to the takes I took shelter in my own tent and took a seat. I had slept during the journey here but that hadn’t seemed to rest me and I was still extremely exhausted. I laid my head down on the table and closed me eyes for a couple of moments. I reached into my pocket and pulled out my signet ring. I didn’t feel anything right then and I placed it on the table to look at. I gazed at it and tried to figure out how I felt and what I really wanted to do.
Then to my complete surprise I head somebody speak to me, “You are too soft willed. Once you have made a decision you just need to stick with it. You will never get anything in life you can’t make any decision.” I clattered to the floor sprawling looking around for the voice. It sounded like… no it couldn’t be.
But there was nobody there. I was the only one in the tent. I tried to calm myself, there had been too many frights recently. I will going to drive myself to death with terror if this kept up. I pulled myself to my feet and righted my chair. I reached out to my ring which was still siting on the table and picked it up.
“So excitable. You can’t keep you head on your shoulders. If you don’t calm down you will end up dead instead of killing Eyyo.”
I froze the ring still clutched in my hand. “That voice, you can’t be. That’s impossible.”
There was a moment of silence and the voice came again. “The impossible is just things that haven’t happened yet. They exist for us to break.” That voice was distinctive and rememberable even though I had only talked with its owner once before, recently.
“The Slayer. How? I spoke with you in my dream but how are you speaking to me now. You’re dead aren’t you.” I stumbled over my words trying to resist what was happening.
“Is it so hard to believe? The power of Zillk transend death. It lets me talk to you. Just like in the dream it is Zillk’s power that lets us communicate.”
I looked down at the ring in my hand. “Then this ring is letting me talk with you?”
“It is the power of Zillk not the ring. It is also your connection to that power that is letting you us it.”
“But the ring is necessary to use Zillk’s power. Without a golden conduit in the god’s symbol it is impossible to use the power of an Apostate.”
“That word. You are using it again. I already told you what I thought of that word. Do not make me repeat it.”
“Do you really expect me to believe what you are saying? That I can make the impossible possible just by trying? That I can kill the god Eyyo, that I would use the power of an Apostate without a golden focus? If that was possible then somebody would have done it in the hundred years since the gods died.”
“People told me that killing the gods was impossible too. If I believed them then I would have failed but instead I succeeded, I killed them even though it was believed to be impossible. When I starting you could say that my situation was even worse then yours. I was not a noble, I did not have soldiers or support. I was by myself from the very beginning to the very end.”
“You have advantages that I did not and you only have to slay one god. One could say that your task is far easier then mine was.”
“But you are the Slayer. The god’s powers had no effect on you, you were the most skilled swords-woman in the land and you were wielding a powerful magical sword. How could I even compare to that.”
“Is that what the stories tell of me? How time twists the past so that people believe what they want.”
“Are you saying those stories are not true?”
“Nothing is as grand as the stories say. I am not what the stories say of me, and my foes were not as grand as you thing they were.”
“What do you mean?”
“What do you imagine that the gods were like? They were each like kings, each with the force of an army in their own power. Yet they had made themselves too human or maybe made humans too much like them. They may have thought of themselves as invincible but they took forms of flesh and blood and those forms could die.
She paused, like she was thinking, Finally she continued, “Or maybe humans were too close to being divine. Just a couple of impossible steps away from being gods ourselves. Those who use a god’s powers do impossible things after all. Are they not like the gods themselves? And if a human would claim all of one of the god’s powers would they not themselves be a god? Think about it. Maybe that will help you decide what is impossible and what is not.”
Then she grew silent. I waited for her to continue but she didn’t. Finally I told the ring, “Gods are god, humans are human. Even if you were able to transcend the boundary between the two doesn’t mean that we all can.” Then I stuffed the ring in my pocket and climbed into the small portable bed that had been brought for me. I then tried to sleep and tried to not think about what it meant to be human and if it was possible for a human to slay a god.
The next day was filled with strategy meetings. The king’s general and the knights meet with the lords and ladies to discuss the situation. The orcs were coming out of the mountains in numbers even larger then were seen in my father’s time. They were also ambushing our troops and two lords were already missing and were presumed dead. Many more were attacked and their troops injured.
There were still enough troops to withstand the orc invasion but that was relying on our improved training and hopefully a strongly fortified position. Our army was positions on one side of the Demon Road, one of the mightiest rivers in the world. It was practically unpassable by a large army except at the ford that we now controlled. For the orcs to invade they would need to cross over the river and break through our lines.
Walls were build on this side of the ford, used since ancient times to protect the kingdom from the orcs and other monsters that dwelled within the mountains on the other side. The line had been broken but twice and both those times it had been recaptured and the kingdom had been protected. However both of those times had been when the gods had been on our side, and had still been alive.
The use of Apostates in armies was forbidden by the king and while the generals and the nobles pretended that they did not exist I could tell that they were here. We didn’t say anything, all the nobles knew that the assault would be rough and we would need all the help that we could get.
“Unless some of them are servants of Eyyo and are really here to betray you when the opportunity is right.” Came the voice of the Slayer. It seems that only I could hear her voice. She tended only to speak to me when I was alone but occasionally she made comments on the general’s plans as if she expected me to pass on her thoughts to the general. Sometimes I held my lips but sometimes I passed it on.
I had expected him, or may just hoped, that he would dismiss the suggestions but instead he usually took it in and considered it. Either accepting it or providing a good reason why it would be bad. The Slayer never countered his arguments like she just accepted his reasoning and moved on.
“The orcs have no gods right? Wouldn’t a god of humans want humans to be his subjects? I doubt orcs would ever listen to any god anyway.” I spoke quietly on reflex. I didn’t want anybody to realize I was taking. It would be bad enough it people thought I was talking to myself but if they discovered that I was talking to the ghost of the Slayer then it would be even worse.
“I don’t expect them to turn victory into defeat. If Eyyo’s servants work it will be to turn a dangerous battle into an incredibly costly one. The less soldiers that survive this attack the better for Eyyo. Without the soldiers it will be easier for his servants to take over noble’s lands.”
She made a good point. If one of Eyyo’s servants kept hidden as a friendly Apostate until the orcs attacked and then suddenly betrayed us we could lose hundreds of soldiers at once. A single section of wall overrun for a short period of time would prove incredibly costly.
“How would we be able to tell Eyyo’s Apostates from other Apostates. What is his symbol?” I asked. If I knew his symbol then I could identify those Apostates.
“What is to prevent his servants from being Apostates of different gods?” Said the Slayer in a way that made me feel stupid for not thinking of it. “Since he still controls his own power there is no reason for his servants to use it. He would rather have them make us of the powers of other gods. And what better way to hide your activities.”
I fumed at her. Despite her well thought out argument there is little we could do. If my counting and estimation of the Apostates were right we probably had at least a fifty of them on our side, not including me of course. It would be impossible to find which of them were working for Eyyo and to deal with them that it was easier to just worry about it when it happened.
Fifty Apostates working for the crown and various nobles. That scared me a little. There were a couple of known Apostates in my fiefdom but they generally kept themselves hidden and avoided making trouble. Maybe I should approach them. If I had them secretly aiding me that would help protect my lands and maybe give me and edge against some of the other nobles.
The Slayer responded. I had discovered that she could apparently hear my thoughts. “Finally a good idea. Any strength you can pull together is good. This assault will certainly weaken the entire kingdom. You will need every advantage you can get for when you finally have to deal with Eyyo. He certainly wouldn’t avoid recruiting Apostates to help him.”
The rest of the day was filled with preparations. My soldiers had been assigned to the right bank. While the main army had to hold the ford because that would be where the bulk of the orcs would be attacking. However the flanks needed to be protected in case small groups of orcs cross the river and attacked the main force from behind. It was not the most dangerous position but given the size of the orc horde they would likely be sending raiding troops across the river and my soldiers would certainly see some combat.
I however would be staying back to watch the battle and give orders if necessary. I would likely never be in danger, at least in normal situations. The Slayer had informed me to keep wary.
It was possible that the servants of Eyyo would attempt to kill me while the soldiers were fending off the orcs. I had Sir Janet assigned to protect me during the battle and give me any advice that I needed.
The next day was the calm before the storm. You could see the orcs gathering just outside arrow range. We had no idea how long they would wait. They would wait until all the orcs had arrived and them pour upon us like a flood. There was no knowing how long that would take and the tension was thick as mud. We needed to be alert for when the orcs attacked.
The day dragged on and the watchers changed shifts. The night was even worse. The orcs had built giant bonfires and were making a loud cacophony of noise which they might call music. It just hurt my eardrums. There were long silent pauses in the sound which always caused the guards to be edgy in fear of an attack and then they relaxed again when the music started up again.
I finally retired to my tent to sleep. They would wake me up when I was needed.
I don’t know how long it was before I was woken up. Sir Nathan was shaking me awake. “My Lord, they are coming.” All I did was nod and pull myself out of bed. My father had left me some sturdy plate armor which I hardly ever used. He was much more of a soldier then I was.
I had Sir Nathan help me don the armor. “How long until their main force attacks.”
Nathan had a grim look at his face, “They are already attacking. They attacked us in the middle of one of their songs. One of the scouts barely alerted us in time. We barely got the soldiers to the wall before they hit it. The main force it having it rough and we need to be ready if case they try to cross the river.”
I stopped in surprise, “The orcs pulled a surprise attack? What isn’t something they normally do is it?”
“No sir, not they I have heard of.”
“Do you think…” I paused not wanting to voice my concern.
“That there is somebody pulling the strings behind the orc invasion?” Sir Nathan finished for me. “The men have been whispering rumors about something similar. Everything the orcs have been doing is unusual. If there is somebody I don’t know who is could be.” He shook his head. “That is the only reason I can’t convince myself somebody is manipulating them. Who would want them to assault the kingdom. I can’t think of anybody.”
I nodded, “You’re right. Maybe they just have a clever warleader.” I was lying. Having talked with the Slayer I knew who must be manipulating them.
Having donned my armor I strapped my sword on and left the tent with Sir Nathan. He then left to deal with organizing the troop while Sir Janet move up to guard me. “It will be a long night.” I commented.
“Long nights are better then short ones. It is short if we get ambushed by orcs and are murdered.” Said Sir Janet. She looked to be in foul mood not that I could blame her. She was generally in a foul mood before a fight, a proper and healthy attitude. I felt more terrified then anything else but I seemed to be getting used to that feeling so I was able to avoid letting it show.
“That’s true. It is hard to get worse then dying.”
“If anything could cause worse then dying it is these foul monsters. I’d rather die at there blade then get captured by them. I’ve heard horror stories about that they do to people they capture.”
I shuttered at the though. “Me too, things nightmares are caused by. It is better not to think about.” Sir Janet nodded.
It was still dark. Probably very early in the morning before the sun rose. To calm myself I reached into my pocket to slip on my signet ring. Since the Slayer had started talking with me I hadn’t had those unpleasant visions. How talking with her changed the future such that they wouldn’t happen or was the Slayer preventing them from appearing anymore. I didn’t know.
Now however I felt comforted by the ring. Even if the Slayer didn’t talk with me I knew she was there. The danger of Zillk’s power still made me frightened but at moments like this I would feel more frightened to be without it. Strange how things change so quickly.
“What do you think the chances are that the orcs will attack us here?” I asked Sir Janet.
“At least fifty percent.”
“That low? I thought you were going to say something larger.”
“There is the other flank. The other fifty percent is that they will attack that bank. It is less likely that they would split there forces and attack both flanks but it is possible. Orcs aren’t generally known for their clever combat maneuvers and I would normally expect them to attack both flanks but this time…”
“They seem more organized.” I said, “Yes, so they will likely sent a large force across the river one at least one of the flanks. I want all our soldiers to assume that is going to be our flank.” I paused, I didn’t want to explain my reason for thinking that. Instead I said, “It is better to be on alert then dead.”
She nodded and called several soldiers to give orders too. Likely similar orders had already been passed along but warning like this would not be told enough. It was too easy to be distracting in the dark while waiting for an enemy to attack you, especially if you didn’t know for certain that the enemy really was going to attack you.
I knew, although secretly I hoped that I was wrong, that it would be our side that was attacked. The orc attack wouldn’t have been completely engineered to kill me but if Eyyo really was trying to kill me he certainly would pass up a perfectly good opportunity to do it.
I walked with Sir Janet down toward the river where most of the soldiers were gathered. If I was going to give Eyyo a target it was going to be while surrounded by soldiers. I could see the lights and could hear the sounds of battle from the main force. They would hold, they had to hold.
There was one other noble, Lord Slinder, assigned to this flank with me. The two of us combined only had a small force but it should be sufficient to repel anything that the orcs could send across the river at us. That hope was tenuous.
The results of my hopes were interesting. It wasn’t orcs that came across the river, at least not at first. It was something that they had dragged out of the mountain. Some long reptile larger then a horse. We never saw it coming. It swam through the water almost invisibly. When it emurged it was to the death screams of one of the soldiers. The men fell back before the monster.
Only when Sir Nathan rallied them did they mount an offense against the monster. It was a bloody struggle. Swords were useless against it unless you got the blades under one of the scales. That was difficult because it thrashed around madness snapping at anyone who tried to get close to it.
I feared that the monster would be unstoppable when Sir Janet left my side to fight the monster. I never thought to stop her, to tell her to continue to protect me. The soldiers needed her and I needed her to help them. She drew her sword and charged the thing catching its teeth on her blade.
She held the monster then just long enough for the solder to rush it and it howled in agony. Even in its death throes it managed to kill my soldiers and it continues to fight even after it had suffered fatal injuries. Only after it no longer had enough blood to keep moving did the thing stop fighting and die.
That was when the orcs came out of the river. They had been using the distraction of the monster to move a large host of orcs across the river basically unnoticed because of the battle. It was a larger group then expected. Before the monster attack we may have had more soldier but certainly not now. We had lost at least a dozen soldiers to the reptile and now the orcs outnumbered us.
Still it was not hopeless. Many of the soldiers were well trained. Sir Nathan and Sir Janet had kept my forces well trained despite my unfamiliarity with combat. I am very thankful for both of them. The battle between them felt like it lasted for hours even though I logically knew that it couldn’t have been that long.
Just as the battle began to turn our way I felt somebody approaching me from behind. I spun and began drawing my sword before I realize that it was Lord Slinder, the other noble who was guarding this flank. His soldiers were currently fighting alongside my own against the orcs.
I relaxed and pushed my sword back into the sheathe. Lord Slinder looked like he had more combat training then I had and looked far more comfortable with the sword at his waist then I did.
“It seems that we are going to hold them off.” I said in a friendly voice. I had never really talked with Lord Slinder before outside of official meetings or court business. He lived on the other side of the kingdom and tended to spend time with a more serious crowd then I did.
“Yes it does. I can’t say that I expected that reptilian monster however.” His was a flat voice without too much inflection. A voice that you could easily get bored listening to. He walked closer to me and stood next to me and watched the battle unfold with him.
“A lot of good men were lost fighting that thing. What do you think it might have been?”
“Some strange creature from beyond the mountains certainly. Who knows what might be dwell where men dare not tread.” Said Lord Slinder. I thought that almost sounded poetic which was weird coming from his dull voice. “Now I had better join them. The soldiers will need the boost in moral. However somebody still needs to watch the battle and inform them if the line shifts in the enemies favor. I recommend you stay here to watch the battle.”
I nodded. I likely wouldn’t be a help down there anyway. Lord Slinder walked down the hill toward the edge of the river and joined the forces fighting. I remained where I stood near the command tent. It way empty but the sun was beginning to rise. I could see it at the horizon and the light would be a boon against the orcs. We would certainly have the battle won by morning. Whether there would be enough orcs to mount a second assault tomorrow was unknown but we could take each day as they came.
During the battle however I neglected something very important. I had forgotten that Eyyo, the Cloaked Betrayer was after my life. If I hadn’t been wearing my signet ring then I certainly would have died then. However I was wearing it and it was the Slayer who warned me. “Behind you!” She screamed at me through the ring.
I spun around and behind me, coming out of the forest, was a dozen orcs armed to the teeth. Where they had come from I didn’t know. Maybe they had cross the river even farther down and have quietly traveled this far. They were all watching me, not caring about the battle down the slope. I was certain that there were here to kill me.
The Slayer’s warning game me enough time to jump to one side and avoid the arrow that was aimed at my heart. The remaining orcs were drawing their blades. They were poorly made things that barely qualified as a sword. Orcs may not be the best sword makers the be blades were sharp and orcs were strong.
A drew my sword and called for guards but I didn’t expect anyone of them to arrive. They were still fighting the other orcs at the bank and where unable to hear me shout. There we a dozen of them approaching me.
I could feel the ring on my finger and knew that it was my only chance of survival. I muttered under my breath to the Slayer, “Any suggestions?”
“Great, thanks, that was really helpful.” I said sarcastically.
They rushed me and I tried to remember all the sword training that I had been given over the years. Most of it had been when I was younger and I had forgotten most of it. I had convinced Sir Janet to train me in the sword again but I had only had one training session so far.
Even my poor training was enough to prevent the first orc from gutting me. The second gutting was prevented because I was wearing armor. I would thank the gods for armor but the only god that might listen was the one trying to kill me. The blade clattered against the plate and I felt the force of the blunt impact pushing me back.
I swung my sword trying to keep them at bay but I was vastly outnumbered and even if I was a good swordsman I would still be overwhelmed by them. The power of an Apostate however was not so easily overwhelmed. I don’t know how I did it but I mentally reached into the ring on my finger and called upon the power of Zillk once again.
It rushed in upon and me and I felt my perspective of the world shift. This time I was more prepared to it. I fought back that heartless urge to make them lose despair. However I could feel it at the back of my mind wanting to break free, to make the orcs regret ever going up against me.
With the newfound strength I spun a skewered one of the orcs. Its defense was lowered because it assumed that I was a inexperienced warrior. I then lifted my leg and placed it on the orcs chest and pushed the orc of my sword. I then swung around facing the rest who had forced a semi circle around me. Even with boosted reflexes and knowledge of swordplay I still was vastly outnumbered.
I needed another advantage, something better then what I already had. I didn’t know what I did, something like asking Zillk’s power what it could do to assist me. I feel the darkness grow deeper in my mind as I pulled deeper at Zillk’s power. I felt the air around my skin grow colder and colder. The orcs seemed to slow down around me. I whipped between then. Blood sprayed the ground and orc after orc fell to my blade.
Five were dead around me when I realized that they were falling back from me. I stared at them waiting for them to make a move. There there was a roaring sound and I glanced to look at its source. There was a pillar of fire over at the wall where the main force was still fighting the orcs. However it seemed to be centered where the crowns forces where.
That was strange, very strange. I looked back at the orcs who were still watching me. Then another orc came from the woods. This one was different then the others. It looked older. And around its neck held by a leather necklace was a golden symbol. There was what looked like a scythe on the strap.
“An Apostate, and orc Apostate. I didn’t know that was possible.”
The Slayer responded, “Considering there is one in front of you then I must assume they are possible. I guess dead gods don’t really care if the person using their powers is human or not.”
“Good point. Any suggestions?”
“Kill him before he can stop you.”
I nodded. It was the best suggestion. The orc reached up to grab the necklace but I instead rushed toward the orc with the sword. I was a little too slow to reach the orc. There was a golden shine and a rod of golden light appeared before the orc Apostate. It blocked my sword and there was a strange ringing sound. I staggered backward from the sound and there was a rigging that bogged my hand.
The other orcs took this moment to rush me. I had just enough wits to block their attack. The chill spread out around me more. My thoughts grew darker and the thoughts of making them gain despair grew deeper and deeper. The chill grew colder and colder and I could feel frost on my skin. The corpses of orcs fell around me and my blade killed them one by one.
Moments later there was just me and the orc Apostate standing near the command tent. I grinned at him showing my teeth. If I had wits about me I would have realized how crazy I looked. The orc was now beginning to look scared. I stalked toward it and it backed up. The golden rod still stood between us.
Winter, something I hadn’t realized that before, was an aspect of Zillk. The dispare of winter, the darkest and worse part of the year. I reached out with my ringed and icicles sprouted from the ground and ensnared the golden rod. The ice began cracking as the rod struggled to get free but it gave me enough time. I sprinted toward the orc who was trying to command the rod.
“Too slow.” I then dove the blade, not into the orcs heart, but through the metal talisman around his chest. I cut is free I there was a brilliant flare of light behind me as the golden rod disappeared. The orc staggered backward and tried to turn to left. I slammed my foot down on one of its leg knocking it down and then I kept my foot planted on its leg keeping it from leaving.
I raised my sword, again not to kill it but to make is suffer, to lose hope, before I killed it.
It was the Slayer who helped bring me to my senses. She didn’t beg me to stop or entreat me to save the orcs life. All she said, “Are you going to do the impossible?”
I paused. Holding my breath for a second. The orc cried out beneath me but I ignored it. My mind didn’t quiet understand what she was asking. ‘Do the impossible?’ No, I shook my head trying to break free of Zillk’s dead hold. Free, free from what. This is what I wanted. To make them afraid, to make them regret ever trying to kill me.
The arm, that was a good target. I was about to bring the sword down and causing a crippling injury when I screamed “No”. I don’t know what meager portion of my mind managed to break free but it was just enough. I was able to pull the tip of the blade to one side and the sword sank instead into the heart of the orc. It was dead, quick, quietly. It was both a terrible disappointment and grateful relief.
I released the sword and sunk down to my knees looking at the corpse of the orc. I felt the fog of Zillk’s power dissipate and I began to regain control over my thoughts. I have managed to fight it. It had been difficult but I had done it. I could still hear the fighting behind me down the bank but that all seemed irrelevant right now. I had survived and had new understanding of Zillk’s power.
“Very good.” Came the Slayer’s voice, “You are not completely useless. There however still is one problem.”
“What?” I couldn’t clearly think through my relef after realizing I have survived.
“The supposed inexperienced lord has managed to kill a dozen orcs as well as an Apostate orc. It would surely be suspicious if anybody discovers what you have done. I recommend that you do something about the corpses.”
I looked around at the butchered corpses of orcs. She really did have a point. “Do you have a suggestion one what I do with them. I could hardly move them all by myself and I don’t know where I would move them to even if I could move them all. A dozen dead orcs is rather hard to hide on short notice.”
“While Zillk was not the primary god of dead one of his aspects was to bring the dead to the afterlife. Maybe there is a way to dispose of the corpses with his power.”
“I’d rather not rely on his power again so soon but it looks like I have little choice.” I raised my hand and concentrated. Visions and knowledge flowed into me through the ring. I fought back against the tide of lore and desolation. The area around me darkened and frost began to coat the ground. Cold blue crystal began to form around the corpses and they sunk into it disappearing into it and the ground. In a few seconds all of the bodies were gone, except for one of them.
“Clever” Said the Slayer as she read my thoughts. “The ways of war seem to come easily to you.”
“It doesn’t take that much to figure out.” I used manual labor, perish the thought, to haul that orc closer to the command tent. I then collapsed nearby. I was a bit squeamish but recent contact with Zillk’s power still removed a lot of hesitation. I used my sword to cut a wound on my leg and then I put a makeshift bandage on it. I propped myself against the tent and lay there.
It was a terrible time to relax, especially with my leg now feeling incredibly painful but I suddenly felt exhausted after the battle with the orcs and the prolonged use of Zillk’s power. I waited there resting until the sounds of battle from down the hill began to fade. It was quiet until suddenly I heard somebody close nearby shoot, “My Lord Friddnick, are you alright?”
It was Sir Janet, returning from the frontline to find me. I raise my hand and shouted back, “Alive. Over here Sir Janet.” She came running toward me and gasped when she saw me laying against the tent wounded with a dead orc nearby.
I smiled as best as I could and said, “He didn’t stand a chance.”
“Don’t joke like that. We need to get you a real doctor. Soldiers! We need a doctor for Lord Friddnick now!” She shouted down at the rest of the soldiers.
“It can wait. I think it was just a flesh wound. I’m sure some of the other soldiers need the care more then me.”
She stared grimly at me and then at my wound before she nodded. “All right but if you are lying I’ll make you regret it. So you managed to beat one of them.”
“I blame it all on my armor. It would have gotten me good a couple of times had I not been wearing it.” Not strictly true but close enough. It was hard lying to my trusted nights but I didn’t feel like I really had a choice. “I think it waited in the woods until Lord Slinder left me to join the battle. It tried to ambush me but I got lucky.”
She looked down at my leg and said sourly, “Could have been more lucky. Although I’m grateful that you didn’t get more injured. I should have stayed up here to protect you. If I had done that then your life wouldn’t have been in danger.”
It still probably would have. Sir Janet, even with all her sword skill, wouldn’t have been able to beat a dozen orcs and an Apostate. Instead I said, “No, you were needed when that monster came out of the lake. You were critical in keeping our deaths down.
I motioned vaguely, “How is the battle at the walls going?”
Sir Janet looked grimmer then normal. “Only bad news unfortunately. Scattered reports mainly. There aren’t many who are leaving the front line to give us details. The injured that are falling back from the wall are our only source of news. I’m not certain if the reports are to be believed however.”
“What are they saying?” I think I already knew what she was going to say but I needed to hear it anyways.
“They are saying that the orcs have Apostates. They are also saying that several of our concealed Apostates apparently had to break cover to fight them.”
“I saw a gout of fire over on the bridge when I was lying down after the battle. Do you think that was an orc Apostate?”
“I don’t know but I hope not. Orcs and monstrous reptiles are bad enough but orcs with magical powers is more dangerous then I can imagine. Now let us get you inside the tent and I will assign you a proper guard.” I nodded and let Sir Janet lift me up and pull me inside the tent where I sat down in the chair and relaxed.
When I was alone I spoke to the Slayer. “So I agree with you.”
I wasn’t actually talking, just actively thinking to the Slayer, it felt mostly the same except I didn’t move my lips.
“Eyyo needs to die. He is breaking down this kingdom, killing the people. I may not be the best person for the task. I may be a noble which enjoys the finer things in life a little too much but if there is something that I can do to stop him then I will do it. I can’t just stand around waiting for him to ruin the world and kill me.”
“Good. You have made up your mind. I’m glad that you finally agree with me.”
“What do I need to do? I don’t know the first thing about killing a god or where to start about killing this one. You must have some clue about what to do.”
“Indeed there are things that I know that may aid you. First you will need to go to the capitol. I have been dead for a hundred years and there is something that I need for you to check for me. Once you do that I will be able to direct you to the next step in finding Eyyo.”
“The capitol? What is there?”
“Information. Those that I knew in my lifetime are dead but the information I had them keep secret may still be alive. I need to confirm that because that is the easiest option that I know. If that doesn’t pan out then I will have to work on different leads.”
“Very well, I’ll organize a visit to the capitol when we are certain that the orcs will not assault again.”
“No, you need to go alone. A large group will alert Eyyo. If he knows that you are visit the capitol then you will be at more risk and I may not be to gain the information that I need.”
“Alone, I don’t know how I would get away with leaving without getting noticed by anyone.” I thought for a moment. Going alone was not something that I had expected. There were few options on how to get to the capitol without being caught. “I’ll have to think about it.”
I rested the remaining of the day gaining information from Sir Janet as it came in. By midday the main force had repelled the orc forces. Because of the orc Apostates there were far more casualties then had been expected. Our Apostates had shown up in the battle and some of their identities were well known. However there seemed to be a group consensus not to mention who they were. Many lives had been saved because the Apostates had showed up and used their powers.
It was a little bit comforting to me. Having people accept Apostates, at least a little bit made me feel a little bit better about myself. I also felt a little bit of comradeship with these Apostates because I too have fought off the orcs and killed one of their Apostates. I kinda wondered if somebody knew I was an Apostate and just chose not to say anything. I then proceeded to avoid continuing to think about that. It was possible for somebody to see me fighting the orc Apostate up near the command tent but it was unlikely.
The scouts later reported that the remaining orc forces were disbanding. They had suffered even more casualties then our side had. With the orc army dispersed the knights and nobles were allowed to return home. I didn’t have a chance to visit Lady Kindeily before her forces left and once she was gone I had no reason to stay there any longer and we all returned to my estate. Considering I had lost less soldiers then many of the lords where were protecting the wall. I had still lost some to both the monster and the orcs. I would have to make it up to the families of those who lost people this day.
The journey home was much quieter then the journey to the river. There was no orc ambush and I was able to sleep quietly at night. A few days later I had arrived back at the estate and was able to finally relax in comfort. I know that it would only be short so I enjoyed myself the best I could for a couple of days before I was finally ready to leave for the capital.
It was late at night when I wrote the letter. The letter read that I was leaving to visit Lady Kindeily that that Sir Nathen and Janet should not follow me and that I would be back in my own time. They would still almost certainly be off chasing me but it would send them off in the wrong direction looking for me. I wasn’t certain how I was going to explain everything afterward but for now it would let me be alone to visit the capitol.
Escaping the manor was a relatively easy task. It was standard practice for noble manors to have secret escape paths built in them. My manor was no exception. I opened the doors of my wardrobe and pushed aside my clothing. There was a lever at the back of the wardrobe which unlocked a secret door in the back which opened up into a secret passage. There was a ladder the and climbed onto and shut the wardrobe behind me. Then I climbed down the ladder into the caves that have been hacked into the ground under the manor.
It took me several minutes of walking before I got to the exit of the the tunnels. It emerged into an abandoned barn that was at the outskirts of the village. The day before I had stolen an old cloak from the guard rooms. Well, it wasn’t really theft because they were my guards but I still had to be stealthy about it. The cloak and the plainest clothes that I could get were the best disguise that I could acquire.
Not wanting to be revealed I had my signet right on a chain around my neck. I could feel it pressing against my skin and as long as I was touching it I would speak with the Slayer.
My main problem for reaching the capitol was transportation. I hadn’t been able to secret away a horse. Those were big enough that I hadn’t been able to hide one away because one of my knights would have noticed. I had plenty of money but I couldn’t buy one anywhere nearby because everybody nearby would certainly recognize me.
I had another option though, it was much more dangerous but it would get me to the capitol at least as fast as a horse if not faster. There was a river that from the mountains, past my estate, and then much father on the capitol. If I used it I might be able to reach the capitol much fast then I did by horse. There were several problems however.
First was that I had as many boats as I had horses, mainly none. The second was that there was a reason the river was not used for trade. The capitol was at a much lower elevation then my fiefdom and there was large abouts of rough terrain and several waterfalls between here and there. Since the journey by horse wasn’t that long anyway most people avoided the river.
The walk to the river from the abandoned barn was less than an hour, however still long enough that I was tired at the end. I had kept a good pace in case somebody discovered this evening that I was missing from my room which was a real possibility. If they started a searching tonight before I reached the river then I might not be able to evade them.
No one must have noticed my letter however because even when I reached the bank of the river there where still no lights near the abandoned farm. My knights knew of its existence and it would be the first place they looked when I went missing.
Once at the river I knew that I had escaped them. The only remained problem was the lack of a boat.
“This is more dangerous then your usually plans.” Said the Slayer.
“Is there a problem?” I responded grumpily. I knew it was dangerous but it was the best and more reliable plan that I could think of.
“No, the opposite. I like it. Reckless behavior is usually the least expected. Eyyo will spend days trying to figure out where you went and that will give us time to gain and edge over him.”
“Well, I’m glad that you like it. I certainly don’t think it is a good plan. More suicidal.” I walked to the edge of the river and placed one hand into the water and the other pulled the signet ring out from under my shirt. I felt cold despite being warmed by my chest and only got colder as I called upon Zillk’s power. Without and enemy it was easy to resist the violent emotions and just concentrate on using his power.
The water began to freeze beneath my fingertips forcing into a large plane of ice. I had myself a boat. Really it was little more then a raft made of ice but it was still capable of floating and would hopefully be able to bring me to the capitol in one piece. I stepped onto the makeshift raft and released enough of the power so that it cracked and broke off from the bank.
I was floating down the river on a raft made of ice that was only held together by the magical power of a dead god and in a few minutes I would be encountering the first of the waterfalls. I felt about as crazy as I had ever felt. I really really hopes that this wouldn’t be the dead of me.
The first challenge came just as predicted, one of the waterfalls that kept the river from being a major trade route. I had a plan for dealing with it and I was not so secretly terrified that it would kill me instead. I gritted my teeth together and prepared to have the raft launch itself over the edge and then just as it hit the water below freeze it to prevent the raft from exploding beneath me.
I chickened out. Just before the raft tipped over the edge I froze a path to the bank and dashed across it. I was a little bit worried about slipping but apparently Zillk’s partial domain over winter protected me from that.
“I don’t think our journey is that urgent.” I muttered to myself and the Slayer. “We can delay ourselves long enough to take a safer route down the waterfall.”
“And here I was waiting for you to scream in terror as you fell down a waterfall.”
I had been picking my way down the edge of the waterfall trying to find a way down that wouldn’t kill me or break a limb. I looked to one side partially expecting the Slayer to be there, obviously she wasn’t though. “Was that a joke that you just made?”
“I am not entirely devoid of humor. I am human, well at least I was before I died. Your noble actions are a constant source of amusement for me because it is so different then how I grew up.”
I found a small trail that lead down the waterfall which had been hard to see in the dark. “How did you grow up?” I asked off hand as I took the trail down.
“Things were very different when the gods were still alive. It wasn’t a pleasant upbringing but there were others that had it far worse than me.”
“I’ve read some of the books about when the gods were alive, it didn’t sound that different then how things are now.” I commented.
“Everything written from that era was partially controlled by the gods. I suppose for nobles, the other big source of history writers, not much had changed but for those less fortunate life is a lot different.”
“Nobles have taxes which they take from their subjects and that they spend to protect the lands.”
“Optimally yes. Many nobles abuse this, taxing their subjects more than needed.”
“Even you do it, although you do not realize it.” Said the Slayer. “You live a very luxurious lifestyle. You have prosperous lands so the peasants still have enough. There are better nobles then you but there are certainly worse. I guess I would call you average for this age.”
I didn’t really respond. I suppose that might be true.
The Slayer continued, “But the gods had a tax too, things you had to do, to pay, to earn their protection. Without the god’s blessings you would have an incredibly hard life. The weather, your health, your fortune, they were all controlled by the gods. It was easy for the nobles to pay these tithes but for peasants it became a major part of their lives.”
“The gods really had that much control over things?”
“Yes, when they wanted to. Most of the time they didn’t do anything but when somebody pleased them or displeased them they moved into action. And it was a lot easier to displease them then it was to please them. Once you displeased the gods it was hard to recover. Without good weather it was difficult to earn a living and to appease the god you angers. It just grew worse and worse. There were beggars in my village that you couldn’t talk to, couldn’t help, because they had displease the gods so much. They were kelp alive by the gods to provide an example to everybody else about what could happen if you displeased them.
“That sounds awful. But surely not all of the gods were like that. Some of the stories I heard said some of the gods were kind and generous.”
“Too much power corrupts Lord Friddnick, remember that. What could be more corrupt than immortal beings with huge power over their world. The gods were not human, something else instead, something that just doesn’t understand humans in the same way that humans understand themselves. Even the kind gods accepted what the other gods did, supported it even.”
I was quiet as I reached the bottom of the waterfall and began to refreeze myself a raft. Finally I said, “So you killed them. How does that make you any better then them.”
“It doesn’t.” There was cold certainty to her words. “I am just as bad as the gods. Just like them I saw something that had to be done and I did it. Yet I am not immortal, even had I not been killed by Zillk I still would have died. There is a limit to how corrupt I could become, to how much power I could obtain. I know these are just excuses but they are the only things that kept me waking up those days.”
“A necessary evil?” She didn’t respond so I continued, “And you are dragging me into it. I’ll only say that right now I am still different from you. I’m going after Eyyo because he is threatening me life and the lives of those in the kingdom. The fact this he is a god is not what is motivating me.”
She continued to remain silent. I listened to the silence as I boarded the new raft and took it down the river. It was still a long way to the capitol and there were still more dangers on the way.
It was several hours later when we reached the next waterfall. I don’t know when I began to think of me and the Slayer as a “we” but it made me feel a little bit less insane to be doing these things with another person even if that person was a century dead. I found myself asking her ordinary questions, talking about things that weren’t related to gods.
I found out that she had been a daughter of a merchant. One who traveled all around the world buy and selling goods. Her entire family had been brought along and they had lived a happy life even if it had been one with more hardship then I was accustomed to. She didn’t mention what happened to her family but because of the way she edge around it I could only assume that the gods were responsible for the end of her happy life.
She also spoke of some of the places that she stopped on her journey to kill the gods. People who helped her on her journey and the times that had together. Those two parts of her life seemed to be the happiest because those are the times that she was willing to talk about.
I took my turn and told her stories of my childhood. I hadn’t really known my mother because she had died when I was young so my father helped me grow up. Because noble parties always thought they were hilarious I had a good repitour of only slightly exaggerated stories from my childhood. Sir Nathan had been a squire at that point and I used to get in trouble with him, or at least him him in trouble.
The journey was still quite long and once the sun was up I had to stop rafting down the river in an ice raft. Somebody would be sure to notice if I did that. Now however I was far enough away from my fiefdom that nobody would recognize me. I was able to rent a room in an inn even though I did get some strange looks because of I was renting a room in the early morning but otherwise nothing strange happened.
I rested for most of the day. My knights were certainly out looking for me by now but they should be looking for me in the wrong direction on a wild goose chase. They certainly wouldn’t expect me to go by river. Still I needed to be careful and not attract too much notices to myself. I slept for a while during the day and left the inn a few hours after noon. I still could not risk traveling the river while the sun was still up so instead I found a secluded location.
I couldn’t keep on relying of Zillk’s ability to improve my swordsmanship and I had to get better myself. Normally I would be at lose at what to do but I had an idea.
“Slayer, you used a sword if the stories that are told are true.”
“That I did. I learned from a great teacher.”
“I don’t suppose you could help me learn to use the sword.”
“I’m inexperienced at teaching and this is not the best situation. But it is good that you are wanting to learn so I would be happy to teach you. First you will need to adjust your stance, you have terrible fighting stance which will surely get you gutted.” I listened to her explanation the best that I could and several hours later I was exhausted and at the end of my rope. I didn’t think I could swing my sword again, maybe for the rest of my life.
“Huhmf, we were just getting started and you begin to collapse?” Said the Slayer. “Well, I guess that will be enough for today. I’ll expect you to be ready again tomorrow. We will aim for a session that is twice as long tomorrow.”
“You’re trying to kill me. You are seriously trying to kill me.”
“I’m trying to save you. Remember that.”
I laid down on the ground for a good hour after the training session. I had trouble moving my muscles were so sore. It was only after the sun was about to set that I was able to pull myself up and stumble toward the river. By the time I had reached the river I had composed myself and was able to function normally again. I reconstructed my ice raft continued my journey down the river.
It was another two days to the capital. It had taken maybe a little longer then it would on horseback but that was because I was forced to disembark during the day and suffer through the Slayer’s terrible training regime. However now I could see the city off in the distance I landed and stood on the land again. The sun was beginning to rise and I needed to walk the rest of the way.
The city was much bigger then the small rural towns in my fiefdom. It had a majesty that make it a great place to spent time. I spent part of the year in the city because many nobles did and because it was very enjoyable. Alas that that was not the reason that I was visiting it today.
I did notice as I passed through the front gates of the capitol that the guards were fewer and father between. That king’s soldiers must have really be hurt from the battle with the orc horde. His army was one of the prime defenders of the wall so it certainly would have taken more deaths and injuries then any other group.
First was a place of residence. I had a house in the city but I couldn’t use it without attracting attention to myself. Instead I would have to rent an inn room. I found one a little out of the way where I would be less likely to be bother or be noticed by anybody that I knew. It wasn’t a huge risk but it was still there. There were plenty of nobles that knew me and if one of them saw me leaving or entering an inn my cover might be blown.
It was rather less comfortable then I wanted but it was better then rafting on a ice raft. I still had plenty of money but since I didn’t know where I would be going home so I needed to careful with my money. After getting my room I went out to purchase some things, I had left the manor without several essential things, at least for me. Several hours later I finally managed to acquire a few new changes of clothes and a couple of other things. Finally I had myself some lunch and then collapsed to sleep in my room. I had been staying up too late because of the ice rafting.
“When I wake up we can go look for your information.” I muttered at I went to bed.
“So where do we begin?” I asked. It was the morning after I had arrived at the capitol and I slept long enough that I think I was on a normal schedule again.
“The grand library is our first stop. It is the least risky so we will begin there.”
“The grand library? Do you think anything would still be there. It has been a hundred years and surely Eyyo would have had his agents look through it for anything.”
“True, it is likely that Eyyo has found all the secret information I would have stored there but it is still an option. Plus it is normal for there to be visitors to the library and it will be easy to find if it is still there.”
“Worth a look at least.” The grand library was the largest library in the kingdom and it held all kinds of knowledge. Records said that is was thousands of years old and that the gods were present when it got built. It was also near the center of the city and to took me a good twenty minute walk to get there. The old stone building still had a majestic look to it and dwarfed all the building around it. It wasn’t hard to believe that the gods aided in its construction.
“Given the history of this building it seems like a strange place to his information about killing the gods.”
“In my time there were no safe places to hide such information. Keeping it in the most obvious place right under their noses was probably the least likely place they would actually look. It was also easy to deny association with such knowledge if it was found here. It helped that until I started killing them no god thought it would be a remote possibility.”
I passed through the entrance way and by the large statues of some of the dead gods which looked down upon the visitors. The inside was as large as the outside suggested. Huge rooms filled with shelves and shelves of books. Yet despite the size the place was very empty. The grand library never saw as many visitors as it deserved.
“Is there a section that we need to look at? Where would you keep restricted information about killing the gods?”
“Assuming nobody found it in 100 years and disposed of it or moved it then the books would be in history section about the gods.”
“Right under their noses indeed. I’m surprised nobody found them during your time.”
“No many people studied the gods’ pasts. Considering how all encompassing they were on people’s everyday lives most people just took the gods and their whims for granted.”
I wondered my way through the shelves until I found the section that she mentioned. Then following her instructions I moved through the isles looking at the books and trying to find the ones she specified. Surprisingly some of them were still there. It took us a while to find them because they had been rebound and relabeled as records regarding the Slayer and her conquest of the gods.
“Strange how things change.” She commented. “Things that were heresy in my time became history in yours. I never would have thought that some of the books that me and my colleagues penned would become the basis of your history about me. I also still find it strange to think of myself as a historical figure that people have written books about.”
“Then are these the books that we need. I find it surprising if we managed to find what we needed so easily.”
“Only partially. The large volume about the different gods must be the rebound notes that were taken about each of the individual gods. I need you to check through it for the section about Eyyo. That is if it still exists.”
I pulled down the book and brought it to a nearby writing desk. It wasn’t that the book had been rebound, it had been completely replaced. While it was still the Slayer’s writings it was a copy of the original manuscript. It contained information about where the gods lived, their habits, and other things which I could only assume helped the Slayer kill them. Unfortunately the book contained not a word about Eyyo, the Cloaked Betrayer.
“Either the original information about him was stolen or the rewrite did not include it because of his influence. It is not here now however.”
“If you wrote it can’t you simply tell me what was in the book?”
“Look at the size of the book. There were many gods and many of the reports were were collaborations written by many people including me. I remember some of the stuff about Eyyo but not everything. Keep in mind that it was a hundred years ago. There are a lot of things that I do not remember as clearly as I could. I don’t want to rely on my incomplete and probably faulty memory except as a last resort.”
I nodded, “Alright, I guess that makes sense. I assume you have some other leads that will contain the information we need?”
“I have other plan but we are not done here. Assuming that the ‘Techniques of God Slayer’ contains the information I think it does I would like you to pull it down and reach it before we leave. I’ll try to help explain it as you go. It should describe the various weakness that gods have. Many of the techniques should also work against Apostates. Thinks like common blind spots in their powers, findings about how we believe that divine power works. It is kind of technical but I’ll do my best to explain things as you read them.”
I pulled the book off the shelf and brought it to a nearby reading desk. It began with a section called ‘Identifying the Divine’ and looked to be a rather dry read. However with the Slayer’s help I managed to get through it page by page. I’m not certain if any of it would actually be of use to me but the Slayer thought it would so I followed her advice.
Several books and what felt like an eternity later the Slayer said, “Good, that should be sufficient reading for one day.”
“You know I normally consider myself well educated with a good love for books but at this rate I’ll be a wizened old man who does nothing but read books.”
“Stop exaggerating. Also on your way back to the inn I want you to walk past the Temple of the Faiths.”
“The Temple of the Faiths? I don’t know if anybody uses it anymore now that the gods are dead but it still there.” So I went that direction on the way back to the inn. Another one of the major monuments in the capitol beside the Grand Library. A century ago it was the center of the worship of the gods. These days it was the equivalent of a tourist attraction. Instead of priests it had tour guides which showed you around and told you about the different gods.
Large marble pillars, carved statues of the gods likeness. It was a sight to behold. I stood outside the entrance and looked up at the grand building. “I’m here. What do you need me to do?”
“Take a tour.”
“Is there a reason for this?”
“There are several avenues we can take for information at this point and if I keep going after the least risk option I doubt we will ever find any information. Eyyo has probably hidden everything that would be information that we need so I’m going to try the dangerous option. I need you to attract Eyyo’s attention. If there are any people who still support my cause and know that Eyyo is still alive it will also gain their attention.”
“So I’m bait.”
“Great…” And then I went and took the tour of the Temple of the Faiths. I hadn’t actually done that before, it would have attracted a lot of attention if a known noble when on such a tour. This time however I was in disguise and nobody knew who I was. I did however try to be conspicuous. I asked questions and stood awhile examining each of the statues. An hour level I had taken the whole tour and had begun to leave the temple.
“Good.” I heard the Slayer say.
“What, did you notice something?”
“Yes, there are some people who where across the street from the temple that watched you as you left. Very intensely I might add. Try to make it rather obvious where you are staying. Just walk casually back to the inn.”
I grumbled to myself a little as I walked back to the inn. I was getting deeper and deeper over my head as the Slayer lead me farther into her plans. If I wasn’t careful then I would probably end up dead someday soon. I could still feel the cold metal of my signet ring pressing against my chest. I was wearing it on a chain under my shirt so I could use its power at any time.
I arrived at the inn and took dinner in the dining room near many of the other guests. I took my time about it enjoying what I was hoping was not my last meal. Then I retired to my room. Normally I would have gone to be soon after that but I needed to stay awake. It was rather a pity when I learned that the Slayer was not capable of sensing the world around me while I was asleep. It would have been really convientant if I could go to sleep and just have the Slayer wake me up if I got ambushed.
Instead I had to stay up with the lights out in my room waiting for anybody to ambush me. It was a long wait in the darkness. I grew more and more nervous, too much to even continue conversation with the Slayer. Eventually I heard something outside my room and braced myself. I gripped the hilt of my sword and waited.
It was a tall man who came into my room in the middle of the night. He was cloaked and hooded so that nobody could see his face. He was smaller than the assailant who had attacked me at my family keep so I was less worried. As he took some steps into the room I quickly drew my sword and placed it against the man’s throat. “Hold still or I will kill you. Who are you? Who sent you?” I wasn’t yet certain if the man knew that he was working for Eyyo and I didn’t want to alert him too much.
The response however was different then I expected. The air around the man quickly grew hot and I just had enough time to jump back before the area around the man burst into flame. The heat forced me to drop my sword to prevent it from burning me. Damn, the man was an Apostate. Why was I not completely surprised. It was about that point that he reached out his hand toward me. I proceeded to jump out the window.
And that is the story that lead me to being cornered in an ally but three brutes and an Apostate. Not the most brave story I admit but one full of danger. I was certainly in danger right now. They had chased me through the back alleys but my unfortunate lack of local knowledge caused me to become trapped in a dead end with nowhere to run from them.
“I hope your plan is going well.” I mentally commented to the Slayer. “An I allowed to use Zillk’s power yet. That would be really handy you know.”
“No yet. We still need to wait.” She responded. “Try talking to them to delay them.”
Talk, great, that would certainly work. I held my position in the alleyway as the three people got closer to me. “I don’t suppose we could talk this out or something. I’d rather not have to die. I have money.” I made a good impression of sounding desperate because I really was.
It was the Apostate that spoke back to me. “Huh, money, you think you can bribe me. Just because I work for money doesn’t mean I can accept any counter offer I receive. You must understand that if I did that them my reputation would be ruined and nobody would ever hire me again.”
I could see the man smiling, certain that he had trapped me and won. “Besides any money you have on you or in your room I could take anyway. And offering me money you have back at your manor won’t work either because if I let you retrieve it then you could guard yourself against me and that wouldn’t do now would it.”
“You’ve thought that out I see. Then maybe I can convince you to take me alive instead of dead?”
“No likely.” Said the man with his menacing grin. “There is a small bonus for bringing you in alive but I’ve always found that it is much easier just to do the dead part. It gives the victim less opportunities to try and escape or cause trouble. It save so much time and trouble to just kill them that the bonus isn’t worth it.”
I shook my head, “That is rather disappointing really. I had thought that you would be somebody important but instead I just get a hired Apostate killer after me.”
The Apostate of Yulf cocked his eyebrow at me in confusion. “You sound rather cocky for somebody who is about to be killed.”
I guess I did didn’t I. Maybe Zillk’s power was influencing me more then I thought it should. I had more confidence in my beginner’s usage of an Apostate’s power then I really should. This Apostate probably had lots of practice but I was still inexperienced.
“There is really one problem with your attempting to kill me. And that is that I would rather not be dead. If you leave me now then I won’t have to kill you in self defense.”
“This big noble thinks he will be able to kill us.” Said the Apostate with no amount of amusement. “And how do you plan on doing that?” He motioned his three thugs and the began getting closer to me. They were would for blood, I could see it in their eyes.
“Is now alright?” I asked the Slayer.
“You don’t really have a choice at this time.”
I looked at the Apostate and said, “Like this.” I pulled out my dagger and dipped into Zillk’s power. It guided me and my small blade. The thug closest to me rushed in with the cudgel and I easily dodged out of the way and stuck the knife into her shoulder. I twisted it, maybe that was Zillk’s influence, before pulling it out and turning to another on of them.
That one was more wary. He moved to one side flanking me with the other one. The chill of winter caused goosebumps to spread across my skin as I sprung toward him. Normally his relaxes would have been enough to compensate but chill that spread through him cause his movements to slow and he wasn’t able to block my strike. Instead I cut open his arm causing him to drop his cudgel and scream in pain.
The third one looks nervous and frightened and I took advantage of that by quickly throwing my knife into hip. He screamed in pain and collapsed into the ground. All the thugs had been neutralized in less then a minute. Even with Zillk’s help I could tell that the training that the Slayer had put me through had honed my body, even barely, so that it was easier then it had been before.
I turned toward the Apostate and said, “Was that good enough. What do you want to do now?”
The Apostate pulled his golden talisman out of his pocket and held it tightly in his hand. I knew from personal experience that the more physical contact with the conduit the easier it was to use the god’s power. With the ring just touching my skin under my shirt it was less powerful then if I held it in my hand or put it on my finger.
The Apostate was still smiling, “You think that being a little good with a dagger will let you beat me. Even if you were the best swordsman in the world you wouldn’t be able to beat me. Against the power of a god normal people are helpless. I’ll burn you to a crisp and then nothing will be left of your useless confidence.
He pointed at me and a gout of white hot fire poured toward me. I didn’t bother getting out of the way. I call upon as much of Zillk’s power as I could with my weak link and froze the air around me making it as cold as it could get. It was enough barely. The fire engulfed me and steam billowed in the air. Even through my protective ice shielding I could feel the heat which would have certainly killed me had I not been able to protect myself.
While I was concealed from the Apostate by the fire and the steam I reached into my shirt and pulled out the chain with my signet ring on it. I looped it off my neck and held it in my hand. As the fire and steam cleared I could make out the Apostate again.
“You are right. A normal person would not be able to survive. Unfortunately for you, I am not a normal person.” I slowly opened my hand revealing the golden ring I had held in it. I could see him mouth ‘Apostate’. It was my turn to smile at him. “That’s right, what are you going to do now? Are you going to abandon your precious job? What would that do to your reputation?” I tried resisting the despair influence of Zillk and while I was able to resist the bulk of it I still felt the need to fling those horrible words which certainly stung like barbs to the Apostate.
The Apostate ground his teeth staring at me. “Now I see why he hired somebody like me to kill you. Normal assassins just wouldn’t cut it.” The air between us thrummed. The air shimmered around him and I could feel the chill of the air around me. Somebody looking at us might not realize it but the battle between us was already underway. It was a battle of temperature, his heat versus my cold. If either of us relax for more than a second then that person would be consumed by the other person’s power.
“No way would I lose against an mercenary like you.” I growled back at him. I was barely able to fling words at him without breaking the concentration needed to resist his powers. Right now it was a mental battle, we were each trying to break each other’s concentration with words so that we would be the victor.
“I can tell you are still new at this. Still untrained and inexperienced. You are going to lose against me and there is nothing you can do about it. It is only a matter of time before you die.”
I almost creaked at that statement and he almost killed me at that moment. Only the presence of the Slayer in the back of my mind gave me the peace I needed to resist the urge. He was partially true, I was inexperienced and he was much better trained then me. But this wasn’t a battle of training or experience. It was a battle of power and willpower. Even I knew that the strength of an Apostate had was not determined by how long they had used the power. All Apostates had the same level of power, knowing how to better apply that power was part of experience and the other Apostate would have beaten me already it that mattered.
Now it was the just power of Zillk opposed to the power of Yulf. According to what I learned when the Slayer taught me yesterday it should be Zillk that was strong because he was one of the greater gods. However I was just using his dominion over winter against Yulf’s dominion over fire. In that regard I didn’t know which would be successful. I needed some over advantage to win.
I kept the concentration the best I could and took a step toward the Apostate of Yulf. It was difficult to keep my concentration but I managed to do it. The next step was even harder. The closer it got the more stress the conflict put on my mind. I felt that air around me grow even colder to compensate for the heat it needed to dissipate.
“What are you doing? Are you mad? You are going to kill us both if you keep that up?” Said the Apostate as I got closer.
I grimaced at him, “Better than letting you kill me. Who knows, maybe you will crack first.” I took all my effort to respond. I then took a painful breath, I think I must have been holding me breath for a while. I took another step toward him and I could see sweat appear on his forehead and begin to steam down his face. I felt the same way because the stress from the building energies was beginning to cause me physical pain as ice began to form over my skin.
One more step and we were only a couple of feet a way from each other. I would almost reach out and touch him if I had enough strength left to do anything other then concentrating. I had gotten to this point but I didn’t know where to go next. I had pushed both of us to our limits and I felt just about as close to breaking as I though he was about to do.
Then I heard the thought that I was waiting for, the Slayer speaking into my mind. She had been keeping quiet while I concentrated, I assume to keep me from being distracted. “Another visitor. They might be who we were waiting for.”
I smiled and the Apostate glared. “It looks like it is the end of the line for you. You had better watch out for the person who is approaching you from behind.”
His eyes flickered but he didn’t look. I knew that was well as he did. If he turned to look I would win. If either of us were distracted it would be the end of us. “You’re lying.” He said, “Another useless trick.”
Then there was a whistling sound. “Too bad I’m not.” I said just as a crossbow bold pierced his chest from behind. There was a huge reverberation and I clutched at Zillk’s power keeping it close to me and preventing it from exploding everywhere once the opposing force disappeared. It was painful and the area close to me flash froze leaving a small plane of ice around me.
I looked up at the cloaked man with the crossbow who was now pointing it at me. I probably could kill him, assuming he wasn’t also an Apostate, but that wasn’t my goal. So I opened my hand and let the golden ring drop from it and clang onto the ground beneath me. The man nodded and lowered his crossbow an inch. It was still high enough that he could shoot me if I tried to pick up the ring but it no longer felt as threatening.
He looked me up and now and now that I was no longer having to worry about concentrating my power I could see that he was not alone. There was a cloaked woman standing next to him. I tried to smile at them to show that I wasn’t any threat. Instead I collapsed and felt blackness cover my vision. I had strained myself too much in that dual and hadn’t slept at all today. It was a rather crummy first introduction.
When I woke up it was not very comfortable. I was laying on a bed but it was lumpy and small. I sat up and glanced around the room. It was small and sparsely furnished. There was a small window that let in dim light, I must have slept through most of the day. Somebody had changed my clothes and I was wearing plain cotton clothing like a commoner would wear.
‘Where do you think we are?’ I mentally asked the Slayer. There was no response. I waited for a minute before I realized what the problem was. I didn’t have my golden signet ring on me. Of course she wouldn’t be able to talk with me if I didn’t have that. I felt a bit defenseless without the ring too. I didn’t know if she could sense anything without me in contact with the ring so she might just be waiting for me to regain it.
I got off the bed and walked over to the wooden door. I reached up and knocked at the door. It was a woman’s voice that answered. “Come in. We have been waiting for you to wake up.” It was a quiet mysterious voice. I opened the door and stepped inside. The room was as plain as the one I had just left with a simple wooden table and a few wooden chairs.
The woman was sitting on one of the chairs. She was beautiful but there were lines on her face which implied that she was starting to show her years. There was nobody else in the room. Had she been waiting here for me or did you know when I was going to wake up. I took a seat on one of the other chairs.
“So do you want to go first then?” I asked the woman.
“We have some questions for you. We want to know what you were doing getting assassins coming after you?”
“That is a rather vague, leading question that was deliberately void of any information.” The bad habit of being a politician was rearing it’s head. “However since I want us to have a cordial relationship I’ll answer. I attracted an assassin because Eyyo, the last of the gods, wants me dead. Is that sufficient?” I told her.
Her eyes widened, “That is something very dangerous that you have said. Do you have any idea what might happen to you if you said something like that to most people. You would certainly end up at the end of an assassin’s blade again, assuming anybody believed you in the first place.”
“But you believe me. I know it is safe for me to tell you because otherwise that wouldn’t have saved me from that Apostate. You know about Eyyo to which is why you are being so edgy about asking your questions. Is that not right?”
The woman eyed me quizzically. “You seemed to know an awful lot.” She reached into a pocket in her skirt and pulled out a golden ring, “Then you know what this is right?”
“Since two people saw me use it I assume you already know. It is a golden ring that functions as a conduit for Zillk the Hope Ender. I was either lucky or unlucky when I gained the powers of an Apostate when I was first attacked by one of Eyyo’s assassins. The ring is also coincidentally the signet ring of Lord Friddnick of Korfield, which is strangely enough also my name.”
“An accidental noble Apostate that is being hunted by the assassins of a supposed living god named Eyyo and you expect us to believe this.” She sounded skeptical but I could tell that it was just an act.
So I made a small gamble. This situation seemed a bit unusual already. I was being interrogated by a single woman who was just holding my ring in front of me. The whole thing felt unusual. “Yes, of course I expect you to believe me. I think mainly you are worry that I am a spy for Eyyo. Otherwise you wouldn’t personally be questioning me personally. I’m not certain how important you are but I do know that you are an Apostate.”
She spun the ring on the table less then a foot away from my grasp, “You are very clever. You are much more direct then I expected, nobles tend to try and hide the truth a lot more then you do. I still don’t know for certain that you aren’t a double agent but you seem to be trustworthy.”
“I blame that on Zillk. The power of the Hope Ender isn’t very pleasant and I fear it might be effecting me personality a little bit.”
She nodded, “It happens. Such effects usually wear off the longer you are away from using a god’s power. She stood up and moved toward the other door out of the room. “Follow me.”
She had left my ring sitting on the table. I reached out to grab it then I held myself back. Instead I stood up and left the ring sitting there. I knew that the Slayer was waiting for me but I needed a moment. A moment to think through and see things for myself.
“You’re not going to take it?” Asked the woman.
“Not for now. Since you’re not planning on taking it from me it should be safe for me to leave it there until I need it again. And weren’t you the persaon she said that time away from them would make its influence over me fade?”
“Indeed I did. It is good to have somebody listen to me. Far too often a new Apostate abuses their power and begins to lose control of themselves. The powers of a god wasn’t designed to be used by a human, keep that in mind. You may have been keeping it close at all times because you were worried about protecting yourself. While understandable I don’t recommend you continuing doing that. Even if it is more dangerous it still help you retain control.” It was an instruction tone, similar to the own that the Slayer used with me.
In fact she reminded me of the Slayer in multiple ways. “I still don’t know who you are?”
“You are about to find out.” She lead me down the hallway and to another plain wooden door. She opened it up and motioned for me to enter. It was a slightly larger then the previous rooms with a big long table made of solid oak wood. There were a few people sitting at the table with drinks. They looked up at me and the woman.
I recognized the one of the men there. He was a skinny man with hawkish eyes. I could tell that he was the man who had pointed the crossbow at me yesterday. He as the rest of them seemed to watched the woman for guidance. She was clearly in charge among this group.
She nodded at them, “He’s alright, at least for now. One of the Betrayer’s men wouldn’t be so flippant.” The man who had aimed at me earlier laughed at that and returned to the drink that he had in front of him. The others looked over me trying to appraise me.
“And these people are?” I asked, “You still haven’t told me who your are?”
“We are the Loyal.”
“Yes, those who are still loyal to the cause set about by our ancestors. We are those who have gathered to put an end to the the Betrayer’s actions and make sure that the world is really and truly free from the gods.” The others nodded in agreement with her.
“So you are following in the footsteps of the Slayer then?” It was a bit surprising. The Slayer had said that such a think was likely true but I hadn’t really believed her but here they were.
The woman nodded, “Yes, she was the first to stand up against the gods, we hope to be the last. If we can finally put an end to the Betrayer then their reign will finally be over.”
“Are there more of you? These few hardly seem enough to take out a god.”
One of the men growled and stood up pointing at me, “You dare question our mettle. We would be all that are needed to kill some two bit god.”
The woman raised her hand and said, “Calm, he did not mean that you were not capable. These are not all the members of the Loyal. We are just one cell of members. We keep separate from each other so that if some of us get compromised that not all of us are found out. Only the leaders of each of the cells knows how to contact the others.”
I nodded, “That makes sense. I’ll not ask how many cells there are because you need to keep your secrets but I would like to be introduced to those here.”
“Yes, of course. I am Itina and I’m in charge of this cell. The angry one is Risgar, the woman is Undir, and the third is Drarak.” They nodded each in turn as they were introduced.
“I’m,” I considered their answers. Each of them had only said their first names and those might not even be their real names. Deciding to answer the same way I said, “I’m Nick. It is a pleasure to meet you.” Itina didn’t correct me even though she knew who I really was.
Instead she said, “As Drarak probably already informed all of you but Nick here is an Apostate. Each Apostate we get on our side is another step toward winning the war against the Betrayer.” She looked back at me and said, “You don’t know but generally all of the members of the Loyal have the abilities of an Apostate. It is a life that is just too dangerous for a normal person to be involved in.”
“All of them?” I asked in surprise. From what I knew Apostates were fairly rare, not many people had the talent to become an Apostate, at least as far as I knew.
She nodded, “It is kept well hidden but the Loyal and those of the Betrayer had methods of teaching people to become an Apostate. The techniques are have been kept secret by the Betrayer so they are not known to most people.”
“Teach people to become an Apostate. That is possible? No wait, I believe you. I’ve seen enough strange things that I don’t actually find it hard to believe that it is possible to train somebody to be an Apostate.”
“Yes but remember that disbelief is as important as belief. If you believe everything then you will also believe all of the Betrayer’s lies. You must not fall for his tricks because if you do then you and those that you care about will die because of it.” Said Itina.
“Of course. I’ll remember that.” I responded. I could feel the weariness creep over me again. It may have only been a short time up but I had become incredibly exhausted. I guess that I was not as rested and recovered from my dual then I though I was. “Also I’m afraid that I’m still a little weary.”
“Humf, not surprising. You pulled more power yesterday then most people use in a month. Of course you are continually exhausted. It was probably take a week before you are fully recovered.” She motioned toward the other three. “We will be fine. Go back to the bed and we can talk again when you are fully recovered.”
I nodded and walked back through the door leaving them behind. I walked down the hallway and back to the room where my ring sat on the table. This time I really did reach down and touch the ring. Instantly I could feel the Slayer in my mind again. How I could tell she was there I did not know but I could still feel it.
“We need to talk.” I told her.
The was a few moments of silence before the Slayer said, “I see that they didn’t kill you. That is good. The fact that you are allowed to return to your conduit means that you must have made an alliance with them.”
“Indeed, they are the people that you expected that they would be. They call themselves the Loyal and they are counter to the Cloaked Betrayer. They claim that some of them are descendants of those who helped you in your battle against the gods a hundred years ago.”
“Good I’m glad that some of them had survived. Who are the ones that survived?”
“I don’t know. They are secretive even to their own members. Using first names, many of them might be fake, and while there is apparently more then the four who are here they don’t interact much with the other groups.” I left the room and headed into the room that I had woke up in.
I laid down in the bed as the Slayer responded, “For the best. If Eyyo really does have that much influence then keeping secrets is the best way to stay protected.”
“I have a question. You seem to know more about the current world. If you have been dead for a hundred years how would you know those sorts of things? Are you taking them from my mind?”
“No, my powers are not that great. I can only read your active thoughts. While dead I was able to watch the dreams of some people. They told me things about the world but it was indistinct and foggy. It was your dream that wondered into mine that was the clearest that I have ever seen. That is part of what drew me to you and allowed me to talk to you through your conduit.”
“I see, now if you will excuse me I’m going to sleep for a little bit. Itina says that I abused my power too much yesterday and I need to rest some more. Also I should spend less contact with the ring because Zillk could have more influence over my personality if I do that.”
“Don’t worry too much about that part. As long as you are not using Zillk’s power I’m protecting you from Zillk’s personality.”
“Is that so?”
“Yes, there are some things I can tell and that is one of them. Of course talking with me might influence your personality.”
“Still, Itina seems to take such things seriously. If I spend too much time with the ring she might distrust me. Since it is important that we keep them on our side I should probably follow her advice.”
“That is true. Very well. Instead you must change what you think of as impossible. I’ll leave it to you to find a way to contact me without the conduit.”
“Again giving me an impossible task. I shall attempt to do my best.” I then set down the ring on the table beside the bed and laid down to get some sleep. I lay on the bed for a minute concentrating trying to contact the Slayer through the ring that was on the table to had no success. Eventually I gave up and closed my eyes to sleep which came on quickly.
My dreams were plagued with nightmares this time. I found myself pushing a giant bolder up a hill and it got steeper and steeper father I got. However there were flames behind me making me sweat so I had to keep pushing. The flames kept getting closer and they were moving faster then I could push the bolder up the hill. However the dream ended before I was engulfed by fire and I could hear the Slayer’s taunting voice saying, “Do the impossible.”
I woke up in a cold sweat I could tell from the light that is was late at night. I reached out toward the ring to comfort me. Just before I reached it I stopped my fingers. I pulled back my hand slowly. Finally I place my hand back down on my chest. Was it Zillk that I reached out for right now or the Slayer. I didn’t know but I was frightened. Being constantly threatened with dead frightened me too but this was different, this was more personal, more alone. It was death by nothingness, quietness. I wanted to grab the ring and stop being alone anymore, I would have the Slayer and Zillk by my side, watching me, protecting me.
But was that what I wanted, to be protected by them? I didn’t really know what I wanted. I didn’t want to die and I didn’t want those that I cared about or loved to die either. The rest of the kingdom was important too but I didn’t know if they were important enough for me to want to save. I had things I needed to do but I didn’t know if I was capable of doing it. I might fail and disappoint everybody, myself, Kindeily, the Slayer, Itina.
Thinking I slowly managed to fall back asleep. Another dream came upon me, clear and bright, dark and grim. I stood on a stage. The light was bright so I could not see the audience. There were people there I could tell but I couldn’t make any of them out. Yet beyond the stage was darkness, rotting wood, broken stone. Those I could make out clearly even in the darkness. I could see off to the sides of the stage was a long drop and the curtains were ripped and tattered.
There was a coffin sitting on a dais near me at the center of the table. I could see into the coffin and the Slayer was there just like I had seen her in the first dream. She seemed to be sleeping or maybe dead, or both. She was wearing the garb of a warrior and the was a red stain on her chest. Blood.
There where no other things on the stage but I could see a pile of things just off to the side near the cliff. Puppets that resemble people that I knew. Sir Nathan and Janet, Lady Kindeily, Itina and the rest of the Loyal. The cloaked Apostate who first attacked me. He didn’t have any distinctive features but I knew it was him.
I stood on the stage not certain what to do. I tried to find words to tell the audience but I didn’t know what to say, I was too uncertain. Then one of the audience members spoke to me. “You hesitate so much. Which path should we take?”
That voice, it sounded just like mine. I have to pause for a moment to make certain that it wasn’t really me that had said it. Finally I responded, “What do you mean which path?”
The voice responded, “The path of individuality.” The stage went dark. Then a spotlight appeared on one side of the stage. The was a doll of me standing on the light. It was alone but I could catch the glimpse of a broken golden ring on the ground next to it.
“The path of guidance.” Another spotlight appear. Another doll of me stood there. Behind me was two figures. One the doll of a warrior woman, the Slayer. The other grim black figure with a bloody sword, Zillk. The golden ring shown of the hand of my doll.
“That path of control.” Yet another light appeared. There were multiple dolls, the Loyal stood around me. Itina had a hand on my shoulder. The ring was visible on a chain around my neck but the Slayer and Zillk were not visible.
“These paths and others are available to you. Yet you can not decide which one to take.”
“I’m afraid. Each one could lead to my doom and those I love. I can I know which one to take?”
“We are all afraid.” This voice sounded the same, just like me, but it also sounded like it was coming from a different portion of the audience. Maybe a bit father back and a little to the right. “There is so much uncertain. Yet we must take one path for if we do not take any of them then nothing awaits us.” Another light appeared but this one was cast over hole in the stage. There was nothing else there and I felt a chilly tingle up my spine.
“Who are you?” I asked.
There was muttering throughout the crowd. Each of them was saying is a soft voice, “You.” “You.” “You.” “You.” “You.” It continued as the audience all told me “You.” It was disconcerting.
“How is that possible? Is this a dream, what is this?”
“A dream, a vision, something like that.”
“A mind turned in on its self.”
“The spirit awakened by the dead gods.”
“A forgotten power long hidden finding itself anew.”
I stared out into the brightness trying to make out those sitting in the seats. Were they really me? I didn’t know. I asked something again, maybe this time I would give myself a helpful answer. “Why now? What good does this do?”
“You are offering yourself a deal.”
“A chance at hope.”
“A future forward.”
That word swept the other speakers. All of them repeating, “The impossible.” “The impossible.” “The impossible.”
I asked, “What do you mean?”
“In your heart you know the truth.” This voice was close, very close. It came from one of the figures in the first row. “You can do what the Slayer expects of you. But what would you become then. What is an Apostate that doesn’t need a conduit? What you would become? You feel the answer to that in your heart as certainly as we do.”
I did not speak. I didn’t not know what he meant but I began to fear that I did. I asked, “What would I become?”
That same close voice said, “A god.”
There was silence over the entire theater. None of the audience spoke. The spotlights faded and then a new one appeared. Two spotlights actually. One hand me floating in the air with light spilling out from me. The other was one of the Slayer plunging a sword into my heart.
I shivered as I looked at the two depictions. “Does she want me to become a god?”
“Do you want to become one? She herself may have changed into a god. Can a mortal slay a god? It is difficult enough for a normal person to defeat an Apostate, how much harder would it be for one to kill a god?”
I shook my head, “That’s impossible. A human could not become a god.”
“No? What makes a god so different then a human? Power? Humans can wield vast power, enough to slay a god. Is it then escape from the grasp of age that makes a god? How do you know that you can not escape such a fate. What is it that separates a human from a god?”
I didn’t know how to respond, what to say. I was silent and then another voice spoke up. “Would you become a god to save what you care about?”
“But the closer that you become to one the harder it will be to return to just being normal.”
I responded, “No, I don’t want to be a god. If I did then what would I be fighting against. The Slayer, what would she say. She wanted to kill the gods she that humans would be free. If I became a new god then I would be opposing what she stood for.”
“But you are not the only one.” Another voice of mine said. “You feel it too, that power that remains of Zillk is restless, the others must be the same. There will be new gods, whether you become one of not it will not be the end. The Slayer’s job will never be over.”
“That is just your guess right? Humans using the powers of gods could never reach the level of powers of the gods.” I responded desperately.
“You think that it is possible. If you didn’t then we wouldn’t think it. Already now you are becoming something not precisely human. You know that this scene is not normal. It is formed like the dream you had of the Slayer, part real and part fiction. We are part of you but able to speak our own voice.”
I shook my head trying to clear it and think. My own thoughts and not those of those around me. Finally I came to an idea. I spoke to the crowd. “You say that I will be capable of doing the impossible, of becoming a god. But if I really am capable of doing that then I would also be capable of changing that fate. I could not become a god, I could prevent people in the future from becoming gods.”
That close voice came again. It sounded different than the others, not the actual sound which was just like me, but the way it mean things, the way it felt serious. “And how do you plan on accomplishing that?”
“I don’t now. If it is the power of the gods that is restless, then I will change the power. Make it so that no person can claim all of it. I’m not certain how to do it right now but if that is what is needed then I will do my best to accomplish it.”
“And if you fail?”
“Then I will have to do what the Slayer is doing. Find those who desire the same thing and have them follow that legacy.”
“Then you have decided. Good. We will be waiting, waiting until you need us again.” Then light filled the theatre and the place was empty. Rows and rows of empty seats were before me. I had know they were fill just a moment before but now there was nothing there. The stage was also empty again except for the coffin containing the Slayer. I looked down into it and saw the eyes of the Slayer looking back at me.
“So it really was you here?” I said looked down at her.
She nodded, still laying in the coffin. “This place is the closest thing that I have to home now. This land between life and death, this world of dreams. When you are not contacting me this is all I have.”
“Did you listen to all of that?” I asked.
Again she nodded. “Yes, but I didn’t want to interrupt. You seemed to be having an important conversation with yourself.”
“I’m not even certain how real it was. Am I crazy for talking to myself.”
“It was real, as real as things are here. This is a place of dreams and waiting before the end. Talking to yourself is rather normal. Judging yourself, finding out the true about yourself, those things are given form here.”
“Then it has happened to you too?”
“Yes, every day for a hundred years. For my crimes I have not been allowed to pass beyond, to truly die.”
“Who is judging you and preventing you from moving on?”
“Only myself. Maybe one day I will believe that I have done enough, that it is time to rest but I doubt it will be any time soon. I expect too much of myself for that to happen.”
“I think you made the right choice.” Said the Slayer. “Choosing not to become a god. The hardest thing to do is refuse the temptation of power.”
“What about you? Do you think you became too close to becoming a god yourself?”
She reached up with her hand and then grasped herself in like she was frightened. “Far too close. Had Zillk the Hope Slayer not killed me I don’t know what would have become of me. Would I have been able to return to the life I had before? I do not know if I would have been able to resist the power I had then.”
She make a strange sort of smile, “I think I might be better off dead. I guide for those who need me with practically no power of my own. It is easy to see what is right when there is nothing I can do alone to stop it. A conundrum certainly.”
I only nodded. “Zillk’s power has certainly done a lot for me but I think it has taken as much as it has given.”
“You are really going to change it.” Said the Slayer. It was not a question, more of a conformation of what I had decided for myself.
“Yes but I don’t know how yet.” I said.
“I can’t help you with that. You will need to figure out the solution by yourself.”
I nodded, for some reason I had expected that. The power of the Apostate was mine, the Slayer didn’t have access to the power of the gods so she could not influence. I stood there in the theatre with the Slayer before I finally managed to figure out what to say next, “I will need to start my journey of the impossible.”
“Maybe you already have?” She responded.
“You are hear with me. This is the second time. You are hear without the ring to guide you to me. It is on the table next to your bed so you can no be using it to contact me. I think that is enough of a first step.”
“I suppose I am. Are you sure it is not this place that is doing it?”
“If it is does that not tell you that it is actually possible. The realm of dreams is being contacted by Zillk’s power normally. At the very least you should be able to contact me without the ring just as you are doing now. Maybe when you wake up you will figure out just how to do that.”
“Then I guess I should try it. Do you know how I should wake up?” I asked.
“When you wake up you wake up. Since I can not wake up I do not know the method to deliberately waking oneself. You could try standard dream messages like pinching yourself. Maybe the belief that it will work will let you wake up. However if you still feel like you need more rest then you should probably stay sleep.”
“Then can I sleep during a dream? Normally I just expect to wake up when I’m expected to wake up or when I don’t need to sleep anymore.”
“You can not sleep while dreaming but you can cease to dream. It isn’t really an option for me but you could end the dream and drift in the space between dreams. The passage of time there is hard to notice and you will be awake before you know it.”
“Why can’t you go there?”
“Because I have no physical body that will wake up. If I drift between dreams I do not know when I will leave again. It could be days or months or years before I finally return to a dream. That is something that I am not going to risk. Instead I’ll stay here until you wake up.”
I paused for a moment trying to sort out what I wanted to do. Finally I said, “It isn’t like I have anything better to do. I guess I’ll stay here until I wake. We can talk about things.”
“If that is what you want.” I couldn’t make out her emotions behind her well trained face but I still decided to stay.
I can’t really explain what happened without large explanation of the changing dreamscape. Needless to say it felt very much like a dream where we changed between one strange landscape to another. One strange location after another. Many of my dreams had felt like this but this one was different because afterward I could remember it just like it was real. However even with my memories that clear I still knew all the time I was there that it wasn’t real.
It was morning again when I woke up. I could see the light through the small window in the room. I sat up and rubbed my eyes. I felt much better than I had last time I was awake. My signet ring was still sitting on the table next to the bed but there was also a clean set of clothes next to it. It was more fashionable stuff, different from the plain clothes I had been given yesterday. These were more what I was used to wearing.
I stepped out of bed and began dressing myself. Once I had done so I examined myself in the small mirror that was in the room. I was a bit unkempt but otherwise I looked normal. After I was fairly certain that I was respectable again I concentrated. This was the real test, I had been fairly certain in the dream that I would be able to contact the Slayer without the signet ring but now it was time to put it to the test.
Normally the ring was the conduit but I wasn’t trying to access the Slayer’s power instead I was trying to contract her dream. I envisioned myself there with the Slayer and once I had a clear image I mentally spoke. ‘Are you there?’
There was a moment of silence when I feared that it had failed then her voice came to me. ‘Yes, I’m here. Good morning.’ It wasn’t as clear as it was when I was using the ring. It felt like her voice was farther away and muffled a little bit but otherwise I was able to communicate with her.
‘Good, I’m glad that is worked.’
‘Your time in the dreamscape may have helped you bridge the gap easier.’
‘Quite possible. At the very least it is good to be able to contact you without having to be able to touch the ring. It will make the encounter with Itina and the other Loyal easier.’ I said.
‘Then I suppose it is about time that I saw them. Although it would probably be better if you still did not reveal my existence to them. They might not believe you and their fear that you are a spy will probably increase.’
I nodded to her and myself, ‘I Agree. The fact that I am working with the dead Slayer is not exactly things you tell anybody.’
Then I left the room. I left the ring there for the time being. I entered the small room which was near mine but that was also empty. I followed the hallway down the to meeting room that I visited before. I opened the door and stepped inside. Drarak, the one who had aimed a crossbow at me after my dual with the Apostate of Yulf.
“Hello.” I said while I mentally introduced the Slayer to him.
“I see you have finally come too. You might now know it but since you meet with us it has been about a day and a half.” He said as he tipped back his chair and set his boots up on the table.
“Two days? Really, that long?” I guess the dreams did seem really long at the time. I had put that down to dreamscape but it really must have been that long in the real world too.
“Quite a while. We were a little worried that you wouldn’t wake up at all. I’m glad to see that you did. Its good that you woke up when you did. If you had stayed asleep any longer we would have had to leave you behind for the next mission.”
“A mission?” I asked quizzically. “Then we are going against E…” I stopped knowing that they didn’t call him by his name, “The Betrayer?”
“Indirectly yes. Small steps at a time.”
“Then what is our first small step?” I asked.
“You know how the king has had his forces reduced about the orc attack at Demon Road?”
“Yes, I was there.”
Drarak narrowed his eyes a little as he looked at me. “I see. You made it here awfully quick. The kings soldiers only got back a couple days before you arrived in the city.”
“I took a raft.”
He quirked a smile at me, “A raft? That doesn’t sound like something a normal person would do. Or even possible.”
“It was made of ice.”
The man laughed, “I see. Now that really is insane. I see that we have something in common. I think that we will get alone great.”
“I hope so. I would rather be nice to be friends with those who share a cause.”
“Share a cause, I suppose so. We all want to stop the Betrayer. But each of us have our own personal reasons for wanting to stop the Betrayer. Legacy and loyalty is all well and good but those who become Apostates and join cells always have some other reason. Something strong enough to force them into risk and action.”
“And you have such a reason?” I asked.
“Of course. But it isn’t something I tell everyone I meet. Generally it is better this way. Well we really need to know is that we are all tied together by our desire to stop the Betrayer. If we know each other too well then it becomes harder when one of us die.”
“Dead…” It was a gloomy word to hear so early in the morning, “Are the mission really that risky? That you have to worry about friends dying?”
He nodded and moved his feet back down to the floor. The legs of the chair clicked ominously when that happened. “More then I would like. Usually everything is fine but once in a while there are those missions where you know everything is going to end badly. Sometimes that is what has to happen because if we don’t do the mission then the Betrayer will win.”
I didn’t respond instead I took a seat next to him. We sat there in silence for several minutes before we were interrupted by Undir. She looked between the two of us and said, “Why so gloomy? I see you are awake Nick. Good, I assume that Drarak told you that we are having a mission today?”
I nodded, “Yes but he didn’t tell me any of the details. All I know is that it is this evening. Drarak mentioned something about the king’s forces returning.”
She nodded, “Yes, I don’t have the details yet either. I know it has to do with Kings and Nobles though. Itina hasn’t filled us in on the details. That means that it is going to be something big. The only times we don’t know all the details is when it is too risky for Itina to say anything before the mission.”
Drarak pulled out a chair for Undir and she took the seat offered. He continued her explanation, “We know that the King’s army is the weakest now that it has been since he has taken the throne. The King is still free from the Betrayer’s influence because he is strong willed and has the backing of the people and his army. The orc invasion must have been orchestrated by the Betrayer to bring about this exact situation. That means that he is about to make a major move and we need to stop it. Itina had the full details and she will fill us on the details before we begin tonight.”
Undir nodded, “Drarak basically has it right. We are also supposed to give you information about us as well. It will be difficult for us to work as a time when the time comes if we don’t have a general understanding of each other’s abilities. I’m one of the Apostates of Tistral the Ravenborn.”
“What does that mean that you can fly? I have not heard of any Apostates that can fly.”
“Not fly but close enough. When I desire not to be seen I do not get seen. I am also capable of jumping distances that are normally impossible for people. I have a small control over the wind but unusually that part is not very useful.” Undir finished her explanation.
“And you Drarak?” I asked.
“Me and Undir are similar in abilities, at least at first glance. I’m an Apostate of Bruko, the Gray Messenger. Unfortunately I also can not fly. I am capable of moving fast then most people ever dream of going. I am also particularly good at delivering news, especially bad news. I also have an excellent sense of timing and several other personally useful abilities. “
“I see.” I nodded, “I suppose I should explain myself too. I’m an Apostate of Zillk, the Hope Ender.”
Drarak whistled, “One of the greater gods. It is rare for there to be Apostate’s of any of the greater gods or for them to join the Loyal. I suppose you were able to go head to head in a battle of power with on of Yulf’s Apostate’s so I guess it isn’t surprising that you were channeling a greater god.”
“I can’t say that I am all that powerful. Mainly I’ve figured out to use his domain over winter. His viciousness gives me an edge in a sword fight but mainly I’m able to use his powers of ice and cold. I however am fairly inexperienced in using them in any fine grained way.”
“Either way it is a significant advantage. We hadn’t had any heavy offensive Apostates in our group for a while.” There was something ominous about he way Drarak said it. Like there had been one in the group before but that he had died.
“I’ll do the best that I can. What about the others? Risgar and Itina? Do I need to know what they are capable of doing?”
“Risgar is an Apostate of Osumu, the Muse of Metal. Normally it would grant him more common skills like smithery but he has turned it into an art of battle. With a hammer and metal armor he makes an impenetrable wall. When push comes to shove he is the reason why all of us have survived pervious missions.” Said Drarak.
“That sound useful.” I responded.
“Yes, but not very stealthy. Usually he waits behind until all the terrible things start to happen and then comes as a trump card. He isn’t as sociable as the rest of us however.” Said Undir.
“From what I’ve managed to weasel out of him his story is more grim then most. Although I wouldn’t try and mention that to him. He doesn’t really want to talk about it.” Said Drarak.
“I’ll keep that in mind.” I responded.
“Good. Itina is an Apostate of Wellis, the Hoarder of Knowledge. While she doesn’t have too many violent abilities her ability to organize missions and discover information is unparalleled. It is that quality that lets her lead this small cell of the Loyal. That seems to be enough details about us? Is there any other questions that you want to ask?” Said Undir.
“Is there anything else that we need to do to prepare?” I asked.
“Whatever you think you need to do.” Said Undir. She pulled out a bag and handed it to me. “There is the money that you had on you plus a little which you can consider payment for joining us. Considering how much you had though it probably won’t be considered much. As an organization we don’t have that much money but we do managed to make due and most members have independent ways of earning money.”
I grabbed the bag and tied it to my belt. “Thanks.”
“Although try not to attract any attention around town. If the Betrayer discovers you again before the mission we could all be compromised.”
“I understand. I’ll be careful. What time should I be back before.”
“The only thing that Itina told us is that we should all be ready before the night falls. Make sure to be back here before that.”
I nodded. I looked between the doors but Drarak pointed over his shoulder at the door that Undir came in through. I smiled and left that way. A few minutes later I was out on the street. The outside of the Loyal’s base was rather normal. It was an abandoned store that was sitting near the edge of the city. Not many people would go past it and likely nobody would generally enter it. A good place to hide something.
I muttered to myself, ‘It also seems to have some kind of ward.’
‘You think so too?’ Said the Slayer. It had been a while since she had talked. She had politely not interrupted while I was taking with both Undir and Drarak.
‘While it is out of the way it is still unusual that nobody would notice people entering and leaving. Eventually somebody would have noticed and then Eyyo would have rooted out their hiding place. Which do you think is doing it?’
‘Probably Itina or Undir. Such a think would either be under the domain of the Ravenborn or the Hoarder of Knowledge.”
‘I could feel it as I left. There was a chill up my spin when I walked out of the door. We need to remember where this place is. It is possible we might not be able to find it again without help.’ I said.
‘Indeed. The ward should not effect me so I will remember it.’
‘Is there something that you think I need to do? I mainly just wanted to stretch my legs after being a sleep too long. I feel all tight and I just need to move my body for a while.’
‘For someone who I have been training like you that would make sense. You need to train every day or your body will not work like you expect it to. Worse you slept for a couple of days without even the standard amount of daily moving your body. I recommend taking a jog.’
I nodded and began my jog through the city. I took the side and back streets making sure not to be too noticed. I ran for maybe an hour. Eventually I stopped and looked down a street. There at the end of it was a large manor house. I stepped one step closer to the house but then turned and ran the other way. I couldn’t risk being seen anywhere near that house.
‘Whose house was that?’ Asked the Slayer.
‘The noble that Sir Nathan spoke about on your journey to the Demon Road?’
‘What is your relationship with her?’
‘Our parents were friends so we have known each other since we were kids. Since we are both nobles many people expect us to marry.’
‘When why aren’t you? Don’t nobles tend to marry younger then you are now?’
I stopped and looked up at the sky. ‘I don’t know. There was never an engagement that was announced by out parents and how they are dead. We still see each other regularly but nothing has happened between us for a year.’
‘Do you love her?’ Asked the Slayer.
It was a rather personal question but for someone who dwelt in my dreams and thoughts I didn’t bother not explaining. ‘Yes, but I don’t know way. To I love her like a husband should love his wife or do I love her like a brother loves his sister. I don’t know.’
‘That is something that I can not help you with. For deciding why you like someone is something you have to decide for yourself. Do you plan on talking with her about this.’
‘I always plan too but I never had the courage to bring it up. Maybe now… but I can’t talk with her without putting her at risk from Eyyo.’
I stood at the edge of the road pondering thoughts about Lady Kindeily for a while. Finally I resumed my run. There was a couple of detours where I stopped for something to eat and to take a break in a small wooded plaza. Eventually I had gotten bored and it was getting latter in the day. I headed back through the streets toward the Loyal’s base. I approached where it had been before but when I looked around for it I saw nothing.
‘Do you see it. The ward must be preventing me from identifying it.’
‘Yes, I see it. However you should wait a moment. Somebody is coming out to greet you.’
‘Alright.’ I resisted the strong urge to nod. Instead I looked back and forth scanning the area. Eventually I saw Undir where previously there had been nobody. Noticing her I moved in her direction and when we were finally close to each other I said, “So the place was warded. I thought that might be true when I left. Somebody would have noticed if that wasn’t true.”
“Yes, I’m sorry for not telling you. Had you returned with a bunch of the Betrayer’s soldiers then it would have been a good protection.” She said.
“Well, since I did I suppose that makes me safe?”
“Maybe.” But she smiled, “There have been a couple of people who did turn out to be the Betrayer’s spies so we had to take measures to prevent them from infiltrating our ranks. We are reasonably certain that you are safe but we can’t afford to take chances.”
“Don’t worry, I understand. If it is to stop the Betrayer then I’ll go through as many tests as I need to earn your trust.”
“Good because it looks like you are going to have too.”
“What do you mean?” I asked.
“Itina has returned. She has told us a little information about the mission and you have been assigned a difficult role.”
“What sort of role?”
She looked both ways before saying, “Come inside and she’ll tell you. However I’ll say that you have the most dangerous role partially to test your loyalty.”
We walked in one direction and after a few moments I found myself right in front of the door leading into the Loyal’s base. It had just been there where previously there was a different house. Undir opened the door and we stepped inside. Then I said, “To test my Loyalty?”
She nodded, “Yes, although there may be other reasons too.”
“Then I’m the decoy role?”
“Yeah, Itina will explain the rest of it though.”
We walked to the meeting room and we entered it together. The rest of them were all there. Risgar glared at me like he disliked me. Undir took one of the chairs and I took the other. Itina was at the head of the table and she cleared her throat before saying, “I have already mentioned it but since Nick is here I will say it again. Tonight there is going to be a coup attempt tonight.”
My eyes widened. “A coup, against the king?”
“Obviously.” Said Risgar.
Itina however just nodded solemnly. “Yes, one of the major nobles as well as several minor nobles are going to combined forced to out the king and take over the government. I do not know that all of them are servants of the Betrayer but at least some of them are and the others are unknowingly manipulated. The kings armies are still fairly large and normally it would be unlikely that even a coup like this would be successful however there seems to be an unusual amount of Apostates gathering on our enemies side.
She continued, “Those are almost certainly all followers of the Betrayer. You all know how much damage a bunch of Apostates can do if nobody interferes with them.”
We nodded and then I asked, “Doesn’t the king have Apostate’s working for him. He keeps them hidden but some of them were at the battle of the Demon’s Road and would have returned here with the rest of the king’s forces.”
“He has Apostates however the orc invasion was well planned. Many of the king’s secret Apostates were revealed during that battle and during the last couple of days one by one they have been killed by the Betrayer’s agents. We have managed to prevent a couple of these assassination attempts but only a few of the king’s Apostates still live and that won’t be enough to prevent attack.”
“So what is the plan?” I asked.
“It is likely impossible to stop the coup at this stage but we can help ensure that the king is the victor. We are going to dispose of as many of the Betrayer’s Apostates as we can before they can fight against the king’s army.”
I gulped before saying, “And how many Apostates do we think that there is going to be?”
“At least 10.”
There was a silence in the room. That was twice our number. If Itina didn’t fight then it was even higher than that. Those seemed like pretty bad odds when stacked against Apostates. “Ten…” I said, “That sounds difficult.”
Itina nodded, “Certainly. However if we can do it right and get them by surprise then we should be able to take out at least four of them before they know what is happening. Six against four is much better odds in our favor.”
Better odds, that was incredibly dangerous. And ten was the best case, if there was fifteen of them then it would be eleven to four after we took out the initial four and that seemed impossible odds. If there was a mistake then we would certainly die. “What is your plan for dealing with them?” I asked, not certain if I wanted to hear the answer to it.
“We need to draw them out of the main army to deal with them. The army waits in secret outside the city. That job is being assigned to Risgar and Nick. Your jobs is going to be to cause a commotion outside the army to draw out it’s Apostates. Since you will cause too much damage to their troops if left unchecked they will have to send out the Apostates. When that happens Undir and Drarak who will have snuck inside the camp will strike and kill as many of the Apostates as they can without getting caught.”
“And me and Risgar?” I asked.
“You will need to give Undir and Drarak as much time as possible. You will certainly be facing Apostate’s in unfair combat where they outnumber you. You need to keep them busy and kill them if you can. Hold them back for a long as you can before retreating. The more time you give the other two to find Apostate the better the king’s chances are. We don’t need to kill all of the Apostates but every Apostate we kill tonight is another one that the king will not have to deal with when they invade tomorrow.”
“That sounds incredibly dangerous.”
“Yes, you decided to stay on and fight the Betrayer. If you want to leave now is the time. Just know that if you leave here now you will never be able to find your way back. And when the Betrayer comes to kill you nobody will be there to save you.”
I half closed my eyes, “No, I’m not leaving. This isn’t something I can just stand by and let happen. Since the king is still not corrupted by the Betrayer we need to make sure that he stays that way.”
“Indeed.” Said Itina, “That is how it is. I’m glad you are staying. Even Apostate that we have raises our odds of success. Now I want us to be ready to leave by the time that the sun sets, will that be enough time for you?”
I nodded, “Plenty.”
Then I left, returning to my room. There was the ring on the table where I had left it. ‘What do you think our odds are?’
‘A hundred percent.’
‘For what outcome?’
‘You are going to win. You have to win. There is no other acceptable outcome. Therefore you should now think about any other option. If you worry about odds or the chance of success then one day you will fail and believe that it was just that time. If you always know you are going to succeed you fight and claw your way to the bitter end. The one that fights the longest is the victorious one.’
‘Yes, that is wise.’ I reached down and touched my finger against the ring. It was cold, cold as ice and winter. It didn’t bother me at all. I slowly lifted it and put it in my pocket. When I needed it I would be able to place it on my finger. That always felt like the right place for it, after all that is where a ring belonged.
‘I wonder if I will be able to use it without touching it.’
‘I’ve always said that if you try and believe then anything is possible.’
‘Denying the impossible right? I’ll do my best. I have some ideas but I guess I will have to test them in the heat of the moment.’
‘That is good.’ Said the Slayer, ‘It will give you less time to wonder if it will work or not. Desperation will do many things that training never manages to accomplish. Something that would not normally work can work when it is the only option that you have left.’
‘I suppose that is encouraging. When the only options are work or die I really really hope that it will work.’ I said.
I look at the mirror for a few minutes contemplating before I returned to the others in the meeting room. Undir and Drarak were both gone when I had gotten back. I looked over at Itina who said, ‘They need to prepare to infiltrate the rebel army. They have already left and you will not see them unless something does bad during them mission.’
I nodded in understand and looked at Risgar. He was wearing armor. Good, solid, plate mail like the set that I had back at my estate. I hadn’t been able to bring it with me because it would have been to big and heavy to bring on the ice raft. Plus it would have attracted notice in the inns and city. Risgar also have a large hammer sitting on the table next to him. I noticed that there golden inscriptions on the handle of the hammer. It probably functioned as his conduit, appropriate for Osumu, the Muse of Metal.
I had thought it would be the metal symbol of a hammer because of my research on the gods. Either that didn’t work or this was an acceptable alternate. It had gold and was in the form of the god’s symbol, that might be all that was needed to make it qualify as a conduit.
We looked at each other for a few minutes, sizing each other up. He was more well muscled then me and would certainly beat me in a fair fight. With Apostate powers he might still win. I had the air of experience the kind of person who knew their limits and strengths. He might have seemed angry when we met previously but now he had his game face on and would not let even the smallest hint of emotion or weakness into his attitude.
“I look forward to working with you.” I said.
“Don’t die.” He responded, “Most newbies die in their first engagement. Most of the rest die in their second. Keep your wits about you and always be mindful of arrows and crossbolts. You will need a swordsman coming but ranged weapons are the real weapons against cocky Apostates.”
“Thanks. I’ll try and do that.” I said. I could tell he was deadly serious.
The outskirts of the city was chilly at night. I say in the dark bushes with Risgar at my side. In front of us we could see the light of the camp. It was large, very large. The rebel nobles had a lot more soldiers then I thought they were going to have. They should have had reduced forced because they too very effected by the attack at Demon’s Road. They must have deliberately kept their troops out of harms way in preparation for this attack.
“That is a lot of troops.” I whispers in the darkness.
“Indeed, but it is not the troops that you should worry about. A single Apostate can take out many many soldiers and might only be defeated when they lack the energy to continue fighting. If it was just soldiers then the King’s Apostates could deal with the attack in conjunction with the army.”
“And we need to cause a distraction for the army and many of the Apostates.”
“Yes, that will be your objective. Mine will be to protect your from the soldiers for a long as possible until their Apostate’s show up. Then we are both on our own. As long as you keep them distracted then anything you do will be acceptable.” Said Risgar.
“Alright. Just give the word and I will start.”
“We are waiting for Undir’s signal. Once they get into position it will be time for us to strike.”
I nodded. I didn’t know what her signal would be but I’m sure that Risgar would tell me when it happened. I took those moments to reach into my pocket and fish out the golden signet ring. I held it softly in my hand for a moment and then slipped it on my finger. Nothing felt like it had changed but I could feel Zillk’s power now, just out of normal reach ready for me to beckon it forward.
‘Are you ready?’ It was the Slayer asking me.
‘No, but I’ll have to be when the signal happens.’
‘I’ll keep a watch out for things while you fight and I’ll give you a warning if something happens.’
‘Thanks I’ll be counting on you.’
Then from not too far away there was a caw of a raven. Risgar began to rise and say, “That is our signal. Do your best to survive.”
I rose along with him. I guess the raven signal made sense. If Undir was an Apostate of Tistral the Ravenborn she must have some ability to command those birds. I didn’t have long to ponder it because we left the bushes and began to head straight into the camp of the rebel army.
“I suppose it is time to cause a ruckus then.” I said. I raised my right hand, the one that had my signet ring on it and pointed it toward the edge of the army. People had begun to notice us and they were yelling. Several archers were beginning to draw their bows. But they weren’t fast enough. I open my hand showing my palm to them. Then the world got cold. The moisture in the air suddenly began to freeze and drop onto the ground in chunks of ice.
Then the front line of the soldiers erupted in pillars of ice. They screamed in panic and normally I would have been disturbed by what I was doing. But the influence of Zillk protected me from that. I might have been able to resist it but I didn’t. I knew that it was better if I let it happen.
Some of the archers that survived the ice released their arrows which wiped toward me at lethal speeds. However I did not bother to stop them. Risgar was between me and the arrows. He swung his hammer through the air and the arrows followed his arch.
‘The metal in the arrow heads obey his command.’ It was the Slayer who had time to watch and explain what was happening. I however did not pay any attention to it. I commanded the ice and cold to swallow up the camp. Despite that it was still summer snow began to drift out of the air toward the ground.
The soldiers were screaming and shouting. A small group managed to get enough organization to start a charge against me. However they never got close. Their bodies frozen before they were more then ten paces outside the camp. The temperature was lowering drastically in the area and I had to kept an active effort to make sure that Risgar was not indirectly getting effected by my powers.
I don’t know how long we where there in the front of the camp. I do know that when the soldiers began to fall back that the time had finally come. Several people were beginning to come out of the camp. They certainly didn’t look like normal soldiers. Normally Apostate’s hide their identities with cloaks and hoods but these were not. They wore what appeared to be their own uniforms.
Bright distinctive colors and a style that would make them look unusual on any street in the country. I brought down the cold a moment to greet our new guests.
“You are not exactly what I was expecting. I was expecting more dark and mysterious figures. Instead I get a bunch of weirdoes. Don’t tell me that these are the Apostate’s that the king is so worried about.” I said. Itina hadn’t given us any instructions about concealing our identity but I thought that acting as if we were servants of the King would provide us a good reason for being here.
There were four of them. The front one was a man in bright red robes. They stopped and looked at me and Risgar. “And I was expecting the king to sent more then two people to try and stop us.” He smiled, “But I’ll be polite. It is rather fun to talk with people who are about to die. You see we do not need to hide ourselves like you do because in the world that we are making it will be us who are in charge. No more hiding among normal people, those who are capable of being Apostates will be the new nobles and rulers.”
“What sounds just as bad as our current situation. While I would like being an Apostate would let me not have to pretend that I’m normal I do not thing that changing who is nobles will help.”
“A pity. Had you agreed with us then we would have been willing to let you join our ranks.” The man looked over to Risgar and said, “What about you? Would you rather be appreciated and join us?”
Risgar laughed, “I’d rather die then be a pawn. Do you even know who is manipulating you behind the shadows?”
The man flashed an angry glare before returning to me, “Nobody is manipulating us. But since you are rejecting our offer I guess that we will have to kill both of you. It isn’t really personal but since you decided to follow the king’s orders and attack we really have no choice.”
Off to one side I heard a raven caw. “It looks like our time to talk is over then. Our friends are beginning to make their move so it really is time.” I raised my hand again and the temperature began to drop once more. I also began to run forward and began to draw my sword.”
I noticed out of the side of my eye that Risgar was moving along side me. The four Apostates seemed slightly surprised that we were the ones starting the attack but they were all making motions of their own and almost certainly calling upon their own powers.
“I called out to Risgar and said, “I’ll take the two on the right. You fight the ones of the left.” I barely saw him nod. Then I could not pay attention to him any more.
I was facing down two of them. The red robed one was one of them. The other was a woman, tall wearing extravagant men’s clothes. I didn’t know what either of them was capable of doing but they knew I could control ice. I swung at the man with my sword, making sure that it was deliberately clumsy. He was able to dodge out of the way. However following the blade was a wave of frozen ice that swept across the area.
I expected to hit him with the wave of ice but it cracked and broke shattering into a thousand pieces without any adequate explanation. My eyes twisted over toward the woman who was smiling at me. I motioned with my other hand and blades of ice shot toward her. They veered off to different sides of her like they hadn’t been aimed at her at all. That was troubling. I needed to know what he ability was.
I spun and rushed at her with the sword. I pulled back at the last instant and a wall of water rose up between us. There was a slicing sound and I noticed that my sword had been cut. The tip had been cut off by the wall of water. Dangerous, a water controller. That would be troublesome. The wall froze according to my will and then I continued forward breaking through it. At least I could mess with her power as much as she could mess with mine.
I used my sword as my advantage. She brought up water to block and destroy me sword but it froze before my sword hit it and I was able to cut through it. Step by step I managed to get closer to her with my blade. Other then her power she seemed to be unarmed. Finally I got to her and raised my sword to cut her down.
‘Behind you.’ Warned the Slayer and I dodged to one side as the blade of the red robed man cut through where I had been. I would probably win against the woman if it was a dual because I had another advantage but against the two of them I would have trouble.
I watched the two of them. The woman seemed to be watching me. The way she watched me move made me realize she was doing two things. She was watching me to counter me if I tried to use my powers. The second thing was that she was waiting for an opening. She knew as well as I did that we couldn’t make moves against each other. Normally at least, if she got me while I was distracted then I wouldn’t be able to counter her.
So instead I was in a swordfight with the red robed man. I was trying to show as little skill as I could. I still couldn’t figure out what his ability was. Was he using it, I couldn’t tell. I watched and calculated while he attacking me. However his swordplay was extremely good. I had to show more and more of my skill to keep him from killing me.
So I took a risk. I drew upon every ounce of skill that Zillk offered along with all the training that had been pounded into my by the Slayer. I use that one moment where I broke the illusion of my skill to slip past the man and toward the woman. Her eyes widened in surprise and rose the wall of water. I counted it turning it into ice and breaking through. Then I impaled her with my outstretched blade.
Her blood splattered over me and she screamed. However she latched her hands onto my body and then I felt a burning as I felt her blood try to bore into my skin. I froze it but that hardly helped as she pushed at the water. She was holding onto me and I couldn’t pull out the blade to stab her again. I twisted it but it wasn’t enough.
I was forced to release the sword and push with both of my hands and with one leg to break free from her grip. I managed to stumble away and turn back to the man in red robes. He was charging me with his sword pressed forward. I had to run backward and escape his reach. It brought me father and father way from my sword. The woman gurgled and I could tell that she was still live. She held at the sword in her wound. The blood wasn’t flowing however. She must have been holding it back with her power.
“Still alive huh, that’s a pity.” I muttered. It was a problem. I had made a risk to kill her and then I would be able to use my full power against the man. However now I was at a disadvantage. I was now missing my sword and the woman was still breathing. She might eventually die from her injuries but maybe not especially with her using her power to prevent the bleeding. I could try to overly use my power to prevent her from using her power to save herself but I didn’t know how long that would take.
I also had more important things to deal with because the man with the red robe had a sword with my name on it. He was good and I didn’t have a weapon anymore so I was in real trouble. And I still didn’t know what his power was. I frozen the air in front of me forming a makeshift sword. As long as I held onto it I could probably prevent the woman from controlling it. However an ice sword was way worse then a normal sword. Each time he swung at me I was barely able to block it and my sword was only an inch away from shattering. I had to keep making sure to reform it with more energy.
Everything was going his way and he was making sure to stay between me and the woman so that I couldn’t get my sword back. I considered running away but I doubted that would work. They would turn on Risgar and he would probably die. Then the three would come after me together. Not a good option. I could vaguely see that Risgar was holding his own against his opponents. But he didn’t seem to be winning. While it wasn’t our job to win we needed to not lose.
I guess this was the time to try something new. Especially since it was my only option now. I watched the man trying to figure where it was. He would need to be carrying a focus some time kind. Something gold on his person. There was not any visible gold that I could see so that probably implied a necklace with the gods symbol. It would be under his robe so that it could be touching his skin. It was a good place that was hard to notice on the streets and easily protectable.
I didn’t know what good getting it away from him would do but it might be able to change the course of the battle. I used the power that the woman couldn’t do much to prevent. I made it colder, much much colder. I was unaffected by it but would certainly make it harder for the other two. During his next pass I took my next risk. I left an opening in my guard, nothing obvious but it was there. I left him swing in at it, and it let me twist in under his guard. I brought my ice blade up cross his chest. He was able able to pull back and avoid any real injury.
But my goal was accomplished. There was blood on my blade and a thin line up his chest where my blade had cut through his clothes. However I was surprised when he started to laugh. I stumbled and stepped back from him. He didn’t seem be after me right now. “It looks like you made yet another mistake. Looking for my conduit so that you could strip me of it wasn’t a bad idea. Too bad however you were wrong.”
He reach up and ripped his robe above the belt from his chest. He had a lean muscular body but there wasn’t a golden medallion anywhere there. He was smiling like this was all part of a joke. “See there is nothing there, no conduit you can use to stop me. But you lose something didn’t you. Too bade your fake opening turned out to be a real one.”
I knew what he was talking about. During the exchange he had managed to slice into my right arm. I was hanging limply because he must have cut my muscles or something. I couldn’t move it. I have frozen the wound closed so that it wouldn’t bleed out but it was now a liability. And I had been wrong, he hadn’t had a necklace of his god’s symbol. I growled at him, “Are you sure you are even an Apostate at all. I haven’t seen you use your power yet.”
“That is because you are young and foolish. I have been using it since the battle begun. And I do have a conduit.” His smile widened, “But you’ll never be able to deprive me of it.” He opened he mouth and pointed inside before continuing, “Because I swallowed it. Nothing you can do will make me lose my powers and now there is nothing you can do except die.”
It was hard to admit it but he seemed to be right. Given my current abilities I was on the ropes. I didn’t have many options. “Your right, right now there is nothing that I can do to beat you.”
“Come to your senses have you? Unfortunately it is too late. I won’t let you join our forces anymore. You have already done too much to harm us. And I really want to personally kill you.”
“Come to my senses? No, I’m about to lose them. Watch as I break the rules.” I closed my eyes. It wasn’t difficult to open up my mind. I could see the theatre again. The lights were on and I could see the unnoticeable forms through the bright lights. I looked out at them and asked, “Are we ready to try something impossible?”
There was muttering in the crowd before the close voice answered, “Are you going to start on the road to being a god then?”
I shook my head, “No I have something else planned. Something very different.”
“Oh?” Said the voice like it was prompting me, “What is it that you have planned?”
“I intend to ruin everything. I want to access all of Zillk’s power. And when I have it I have it all I intend to change it into something else.”
There was a long moment of silence before the voice exactly like mine said, “That could kill you.”
“If I don’t I will die anyway. I have no other option. But don’t worry. I will not die, I can not die. Because if I die there will be nobody to kill Eyo.”
The crown said in unison. “I understand. Then begin.”
Then I opened my eyes looked back into the man’s eyes. Not even a second has passed since I had closed my eyes. I dropped my ice sword from my hand and with one hand managed to pull the ring off the ringer. I held in my hand. “Are you ready for my next magic trick? I’m about to change the world.” My hand filled with ice with the ring in the center. I chilled it as cold as I could make it and covered it in thick layer of ice.”
“What are you doing?” Said the man he was watching me in confusion like he didn’t understand my unusual actions. “Have you gone crazy from your injuries.”
I then turned my hand over and dropped the ring. “Just watch.” The ring spun as it fell toward the ground. I kept concentrating on it was it fell. Then it hit the ground. It was a rough rock that I had dropped it one. It hit the rock and the ring shattered. It had become fragile from extreme cold that had been applied to it. It could feel my connection to Zillk began to shatter just as the ring was doing. I grasped as each of those individual strands as they broke apart. I pulled and pulled the power like I was pulling through a sieve.
I felt the pain as I pulled all the power into it. It wasn’t just all as much power as I could use or that I could hold. I literally tried to pull all of the power through the broken shards of the ring. The ground around me frozen then the air seemed to shatter as if a thousand possible visions of the future was being refracted in it. I felt pain, more pain then I could imagine. My body was cold, freezing, and I felt like I was getting no protection from the cold at all.
The ground began to crack and I could feel a rumbling as the ground around me shuttered. The man staggered and I could see the others. The two other rebel Apostate’s and Risgar has stopped their battle and were looking in my direction. I felt the power coursing through my veins, thrumming through my body. The shards of Zillk clashed and fought in my body trying to reform into one power but I wouldn’t let them.
My skin split in places as the power in me bubbled to the surface. My blood leaked from the wounds in my flesh. My entire body shuttered like it was about to break. Then I had it. I had all of Zillk’s power inside me. I knew with this much power I could do whatever I wanted. I could be a god or crush all those before me but I knew if I did this it would change me. That much power at my disposal would make me something different, not human. So I let it go.
Nine, the ring had broken into nine parts and I now had six fragments of Zillk’s power floating inside me. Frost, colder, the winter aspect. I let it go and the world around me blanketed with cold. Death, the one who watches those go into afterlife and tells them of their crimes in life. I let it do and the grass beneath me died. Violent swordsmanship, blood killer who shows no mercy. I let it go and I felt my anger go with it. Despair, the last of hope, total and utter fear. I let it go and with it my worries. The future, that shows the darkness and possible dangers to come. I let it go and watched the thousands deaths that could have happened go with it. Finally the nothingness that is left behind, the void of emptiness where nothing survives. I let it go and the air pulled way from me for a moment leaving me gasping.
Then I was just myself. No Zillk, no power coursing through my veins. I was standing in the snow watching it fall down and I was at peace. I had broken it, shattered it like ice. As much as I Slayer had killed Zillk I had done it again. I had unmade him, broke his power into pieces such that it could never be remade. I still held within me the last remnants of Zillk, the emotions, the personality. Then I let those go, freed them to finally be at peace.
I knelt in the snow looked up at the flakes falling from the sky. I felt cold but not freezing. I was calm, not the deadly calm that Zillk had given me but a true calm like just before you fall asleep.
“It is done.”
It was silent as the snow fell on the battlefield. I looked over to see the Apostates all still stopped and looking at me. I was chilly, not frozen but cold from the snow falling around me. I could still feel the pain in my body with the cracked bleeding skin but compared to before it was almost pleasant. Empty of the power I had held I could finally move again. I pulled myself to my feet and looked off into the camp. Things were quiet there, everybody still taking in the disturbance that I had caused.
Then I reached out with me good right hand. I pulled at the air, I could feel the energies I released still floating in it. There was no more golden conduit but that didn’t stop me from accessing the power. It wasn’t Zillk’s power anymore so I no longer needed his symbol to access it. Instead I pulled at the power of winter. I wrapped it around me like a blanket and the cold no longer bothered me. There was no strange emotional connection like I had with Zillk’s power, it was just the raw force, the pure cold of winter that I held. Nothing more.
There was a faint light around me as the power inside me glowed. The power seeping into me was soft and light, like snow. I could feel it pilling up inside me. It wasn’t heavy or hard and I felt like I could carry all of it. I turned and faced the man. He had fallen down backward during the earth rumbling.
He stammered at me, “What, what did you just do.” He tried staggering to his feet and pulled his sword out of the snow next to him.
“Changed the world.” I said, “If you leave now, run away, and abandoned all notions of fighting the king then I will let you live.” It was calmness spreading throughout me. I didn’t want to kill him, Zillk would have but he no longer had any grasp over me. I knew that the Loyal might not like me letting him live but I had to offer him the option.
He however didn’t believe me. “Like I would run away from you. That was just a pretend display of power. You have nothing left, you broke your conduit and now you are trying to bluff me into surrendering. I won’t fall for a clumsy ruse like that. He straightened and pointed his sword at me. “I’m just going to kill you right here and then all your bragging about changing the world will be for nothing.”
I didn’t respond. If he didn’t want to surrender then there was nothing that I could do about it. Instead I began walking toward him. I didn’t know how much the power inside me had change but I knew that I had the advantage. The pure power of winter welled up inside me and I knew that it was stronger then what I had held before. It filled me. The man raised his blade and ran at me.
I closed my eyes and imagined the form of a sword. The was a tinkeling sound as the snow drifted around my crystalizing into the form of the sword that I had envisioned. The ones I had made before were crude constructs that barely held together. This was was brilliant clear crystalline ice. I raised the sword and blocked the man’s attack.
I reached out into the ether toward one of the other powers that I had freed from Zillk. The aspect of the blade began to seep into me. I had to share the space inside me. The two powers not longer mixed so I had to give them equal space. I balances the magical sword skills with the control over the cold. However I had more then enough space inside me to hold a bunch of each. Grace and pose. I could feel the forms that I had drilled with the Slayer coming easily to mind. I changed between them one by one knocking back the man’s sword.
I could feel something outside me pushing at my power trying to influence it. I could see what I hadn’t seen before. This subtle pressure. It was the man’s power that seemed to be influencing my actions. I see, that was what it was, manipulation of his opponents, making them make mistakes, making it easier for him to win. Now however it wasn’t working. My sword maneuvers were perfect incarnations of the base form. No desire to make him despair. Just the plan desire to win the battle.
He backed up and I forced him to fight desperately for his life. I was overpowering him and all he could do was retreat. Then his back was to a wall and he couldn’t retreat. He wasn’t able to keep up his guard and I found the opening that I was looking for. I managed to knock away his sword and bring my blade down toward his chest. Then I hesitated, the real personal desire not to kill somebody came upon me and I changed the angle of my blade instead bringing toward his shoulder.
I managed to inflict a horrible wound on his shoulder. He screamed and dropped his blade in agony. I froze his wound shut that that the bleeding wouldn’t kill him. Then I pressed my shoulder to his chest and knocked him backward into the wall. At he hit the wall I froze him to it preventing him from moving at all. He was in pain but he was still alive.
I turned and looked toward the others. The woman was still laying on the ground with my sword through he chest. She seemed to be dead or unconscious I couldn’t tell. I bend down next to her and touched her. She was cold but still breathing. I pushed a little of my power into her so that the cold wasn’t as bad. Her wound was beginning to bleed so I froze it shut. I checked her and found a bracelet with a symbol on it and pulled it off her putting it in my pocket. I then stood back up and looked as Risgar.
Risgar was fighting the other two but as they noticed that I had beaten the man they began to turn and run away. Risgar began to pursue them but I said, “Stop, let them go.”
He looked over his shoulder at me before saying, “Are you sure? They might come back for the main assault.”
I shook my head, “Unlikely, and we need to go secure Undir and Drarak. They may need our help.”
He stopped. “Alright, let’s go that.”
We turned and began running into the camp of soldiers. The soldiers stepped back before us not wanted to fight us. They would leave us to their Apostates. As we ran Risgar asked me, “What did you do back there. The earth and sky changed and your conduit broke but you still seem to be able to use Zillk’s power. What happened?”
“I pulled Zillk’s power apart by the seams through the broken shards the ring.” I responded. I looked and listened for any unusual sounds while we were running looking for the other two.
“That, how, what?” His face made strange expressions as he ran. Finally he managed to say, “I don’t understand but you had better explain everything when we are done.”
“I’ll do the best that I can.”
He pointed to some of the soldiers running in a direction and I nodded and together we ran that way.
‘I did it.” I said mentally to the Slayer. I waited as we ran. However there wasn’t a response. Had breaking the conduit messed up my connection with the Slayer. That shouldn’t have been true, I had been able to talk to her without it. However to make sure I called upon some of the other fragments. Yet there was still nothing.
I closed my eyes momentarily while we were running. The stage of my dream was there. The coffin that she had been in was still there but she was missing from it. She wasn’t anywhere else there either. I passed out of the theatre and into plains. This was supposed to be the Slayer’s dream. There cottage was there but when I opened the door nobody was inside. I looked around but it really was empty. Everything else was there like it was supposed to but the Slayer was gone.
I opened my eyes and kept running with Risgar. What had happened. I had spoken with her not long before I tore apart Zillk’s power but now she was gone. Had my actions changed something, I didn’t know. I wanted to try and find her but now wasn’t the time. There was a commotion in front of us.
I saw Undir fighting with another one of those strangely dressed Apostates. “I’ll get her. You find Drarak.” I said. Risgar nodded and turned off in a different direction. There was a group of archers nearby who had their bows back and must have been waiting for a moment to catch Undir off guard. My first task was to run into their group. Flowing blade cut through the strings of the bows causing them to snap from the release. In the confusion I ran past them toward Undir. The cold drifted with me and it was my entrance that gave Undir the edge.
She only had a knife all that she need but now that her opponent was distracted by my entrance she was able to push forward and had the advantage against the man. I however had a different plan for dealing with him. Having felt the pulls of divine power as I ripped Zillk’s power through the shards of the ring I was able to feel the same thing coming from this man. It was so clear that I wondered how I was not able to feel it before. He had a necklace that he was using as a conduit.
I followed Undir in and while she made the made attack with her knife I was able to slip in under his guard. My blade slipped in and made a slice across the side of the neck. It barely cut the flesh despite the fact that I could have made it deeper. It was along he side near the collarbone and it cut the cord that held the pendant. It slide down and fell through his shirt and onto the ground beneath him. Suddenly he was without the powers of an Apostate against two of us.
I scooped up the necklace while he raised his hands in surrender. Undir held her knife near his throat while she talked to me. “That rumbling that happened just recently. Do you know what that was. I disturbed me just before I was about to kill this man.”
“My apologies but that was kind of my fault.” She flashed me an angry glare while I continues, “I’ll explain everything later but the Apostate’s at the front have been dealt with and we need to escape before the army realizes that their Apostate’s are failing and that they need to kill us.”
“Alright.” She was not as merciful as me and she sunk her knife into the man’s chest. It was quick as the man died. “Drarak?” She asked.
“Risgar is finding him.” I said and she nodded. Then we ran toward the exit of the camp. The soldiers had begun to mobilize and several times I had to block arrows coming through the air with walls of ice. However after several minutes we finally managed to make it to the exit of the camp. She lead the way toward the rendezvous position. I followed her while keeping any eye out to make sure no soldiers were following us.
We made it there first and when we did I collapsed onto the ground. My left arm was still in immense pain from the wound the red robed man had given me.
I curled up near a tree and then looked over at Undir. “I’m going to rest for a little bit here. Wake me when Risgar and Drarak arrive.”
Undir looked concerned at me. “Are you sure you want to rest now. You look fairly injured. If you don’t wake up then we might not be able to bring you back with us. If that happens then you might die.”
I shook my head, “No there is something important that I need to do now. If I don’t do it now then it might be too late.”
“Too late? What do you mean?”
“I lost somebody important and if I do not find them now I might never be able to find them again?”
“Somebody? What do you mean?” She rushed over to my side and I could see concern in her eyes. However I was already beginning to drift away. I was closing me eyes and soon I had drifted into dreams. It was a real dream too, not just a pretend dream that I could cause if I closed my eyes and concentrated right.
I could feel the dream body as if it was my real body. I felt a pain in my shoulder and could tell that it was still injured. Normally the dream world reflected what we wanted it to but seemed that I had brought my earthly expectations along with me. I was standing on the stage, the lights were on and the theatre was empty. I ripped part of the curtain down and used it to make myself a makeshift sling.
Once that had been done I looked around the stage again. The coffin was there but it was still empty. I hadn’t expected the Slayer to be there but I had hoped. The left the stage out the back and found myself in the plains. The flowers swayed in the breeze and I could see the Slayer’s small cabin off in the distance. Since our journey through the dreams that had happened during my long rest our two dream worlds had been connected like this.
I made my way across the field until I was at her cabin. I knocked on the door but there was no response. I opened the door and walked inside. The place was dirty, uncared for. That was very different then the first time I had been there with the Slayer. I looked around to see if there was any clues but I couldn’t see anything. I had hoped to find some clue that might lead me to her here but I seemed to be without luck.
I didn’t really know where else to look so instead I tried to reach out and feel for her presence. It was somewhat like when I had found a way to talk to her without the conduit. I imagined her how I remembered her. Every little detail that I could picture. It was difficult because I had never seen her with my real eyes only in these dream worlds. Finally instead I concentrated on her voice. That was the part of her that I was most familiar with and knew the best.
I imagined her calling out for me telling me to come to her. Before I realized what had happened I found myself at a lake. It was dark and black like no water on the earth. There were no boats and the waters roiled and moved like the river spinning and swirling around. I knelt down and peering into the water but I could see nothing through it because it was dark as pitch. Yet I felt like I could hear the Slayer’s voice off across the lake into the darkness.
I needed to find a way across the river. I reached out toward the water but pulled make as I felt a stinging sensation just from getting my hand next to the river. Swimming across certainly wouldn’t be an option. I tried to use the power I was most familiar with. I called upon the power of cold to make myself a boat to cross the river. However a strange sensation swept into me. It wasn’t the power of cold that entered me but something different, yet familiar.
As it poured into me I recognized it. It was the part of the domain of death that Zillk had control over. Now freed from his personality it was like a journeyman willing to show me the way. As it seeped into me I realized where I was, the edge of life and death. Beyond here was something that I did not know anything about.
I stood there and a boat of white wood rose out the lake and drifted toward me called my the the guiding power of death. As it reached the bank I stepped into it and sat down. The boat began to drifting through the waters until I could no longer see the bank anymore. Then I could not tell what way I was going. Was I going closer to the Slayer, farther way, I could not tell. I could only try to listen for her voice and try the guide the boat in that direction.
Finally I saw something off in the distance. It was small island. Barely big enough to even be called an island. There as only a archway where I door might be placed. I could see a form of somebody sitting there near the doorway. I pulled the boat up close to the door and stepped off onto the island. I reached out my hand and said, “I have come for you.”
The Slayer looked up through her tangled hair and she spread her lips in a pained smile. “You’ve come for me. I’ve been waiting.”
“I’m sorry I broke you link.” I only understood what I was saying as I said it. The deathly power that filled me was making me understand things that I hadn’t understood before. “It was Zillk that kept you bound to our world and when I broke apart his power it also broke your connection to the world of the living.”
“No, you have nothing to apologize for. You did something that I wasn’t capable of doing. Having the wait for you out here is nothing compared to that. However I would like to thank you for coming back for me.” She said.
“I couldn’t just leave you out here. After everything you have helped me with I would feel a bit back if I abandoned you.”
I reached out my hand and helped her up. She was wearing plan dirty clothes. Once I had helped her up she moved over toward the boat and climbed in it. She said, “I will be glad to be out of here. That empty archway gives me the chills.”
I nodded, “Passing through it would probably be the end. I don’t know everything but I can tell that those who go through it will not come back.” I climbed into the boat after her and then directed it back toward the bank. It was slow going and I felt that the boat seemed weighted down. Not with me but with the Slayer. It had trouble bringing her beyond the realms of death because she was no longer bound to the realms of the living.
I reached deeply into the limited powers over death that I had control over. I grasped at the power that I sought. Finally I reached down toward the water. I could feel a sharp pain as my hand burned badly from the water that seemed to eat into the life force of my hand. As I pulled it out there were black lines tracing my veins. And in my hand was a dark cloak. I handed it to the Slayer who looked questioningly at me.
“The best that I can manage. It should keep you bound to the world of the living. So that you not be brought back to this place.”
“I see.” She opened the clasp of the cloak and sling it around her shoulders. As the clicked shut the weight on the boat lighten and the metaphorical speed of the boat increased. As it did she said, “This feels weird. Once I put the cloak on I can not feel something strange, grim and dark but not evil.”
I looked at her with my strange senses. I could see the same power in her that was now filling me. “It is one of the fragments of Zillk’s power. The power of guidance, the journey toward dead. That cloak was created using that power.”
“Is this what it feels like to be an Apostate?” Asked the Slayer
“No, those who are Apostate’s feel the overwhelming pressure of the dead god’s former personality. Or at least I did. What you are feeling is the power in its pure form, untainted by the former gods. I’ve been trying to think of a new name for this type of magic. All we have know is the Gods and Apostates but this is something different.”
“They are free, unbound. How about you call them Keys?” Said the Slayer.
“Keys?” I pondered the word. “I rather like that. Then I have just show you how to use one of the Keys of Death. Zillk had command over six of them. However I plan of freeing more of them. I have a couple of conduits of the others gods. When I have time I plan to break them apart too. If I can do it with one of the major gods then I should be able to do it with the minor gods.”
The shore was in sight. I pulled the boat toward the shore and stepped out. The Slayer followed me. Once on this side of the shore I could feel the waking world just outside of my reach. There was muted voices coming from that direction. “You should be able to make it the rest of the way without me. I seem to be being called.”
She nodded, “Yes, I’ll be able to dnano that.”
I then opened my eyes. My first sensation was that I was extremely cold. I had let go over the Key of Winter while I was sleeping and with it the cold had been affecting me body again. I pulled in the Key of Winter again and felt the cold decrease. I could hear the voice of Drarak saying, “He isn’t waking up, what should be do? Leave without him?”
“No need, I’m awake.” I said as I pushed myself to my feet. My arm still pained me but I managed to do it. As I rose I noticed that my other hand had black lines running down it like my veins were full of black blood. It seems that reaching into the river of death had effected me more then I had realized. Still it had been worth it.
The three turned and looked toward me surprised. Risgar said, “Nick, your awake. A moment ago nothing we could do would wake you up and now you wake up just from the sounds of our voices. What happened?”
“I finished what I was doing. Now that I am done it is time for us to leave.”
The watched me, finally Drarak said, “Fine but you have better explain yourself later. A lot of strange things had happened tonight and I’m sure all of them are your fault.”
“Very well. I will explain everything.” I began walking toward the capitol. I could hear sounds from the camp behind us which sounded like the chaos and confusion of a leaderless army. “There is a lot to explain so I hope you will be willing to spend the time to listen. Also a lot of it will sound impossible so I hope you will believe me.”
They followed and Risgar said, “It would take a lot for me not to believe you. After all you did some impossible and crazy things out there tonight.”
An hour later I was seated in the meeting room of the Loyal’s base. My injured arm had been properly bandaged and I was nursing a light ale that was helping me keep my mind off the pain. I had changed out of my bloody and mud covered clothes and had put on something clean, although not as fancy as the old clothes had been before they had been in a swordfight. In the chairs around me were the other members of the Loyal. They were watching me, waiting.
“Was the mission tonight successful enough?” I asked to begin the conversation.
Risgar glared at me but Itina answered the question. “Yes, it should be. You all kill or scared away enough of the rebel Apostates that the army will likely disband. If it does not then the king will have enough Apostates to quell the assault. Likely those in charge of the rebels will realize that and pull their armies back now. They kept their identities secret enough that the king will likely not be able to do anything about them. Those that do get found out will probably blame it on the Apostates taking over and running the army. That story will likely be accepted.
I nodded, “Good enough I suppose. We held back the Betrayer’s schemes and disposed of many of his Apostates. Win all around I suppose.”
“Indeed. However there is one thing left to be dealt with and that is the matter of what you did at the camp. Risgar claims that you broke your conduit and it exploded. Then you preceded to use the powers of an Apostate without a conduit and beat a seasoned Apostate without trouble. What would you like to say about this.” Said Itina.
I lifted the mug of ale and took a sip before I said, “That sounds like a pretty adequate explanation of events.”
Drarak waved his hand which also had a mug of ale, “Even if that was a good explanation of what happened we would like you to explain exactly how you did it and how. What you did definitely wasn’t normal and it was like nothing that I had ever seen before. The sky changed color and the earth quaked. Would you please explain how this happened.”
“I suppose that I did say I would tell what happened. However it might take a while to explain everything because I only partially understand it myself. You know how the power of an Apostate feels? Some people might think it is just the remaining power of the gods but that isn’t all there is to it. While the gods may be dead the remnants of their personality still linger in their power and those that use it become more and more like the god the more they use the power.”
They nodded in understanding and Undir said, “Yes, we know that. It is one of the reasons it is important to avoid using the powers of an Apostate when you do not need the benefits.”
“Exactly. I’ve also been thinking for a while how I would be able to beat the Betrayer. The power of an Apostate is not enough by itself to beat a real god. The easy option would be to take in all of a god’s power and essentially become a god yourself. With that might power you would be able to beat a god. But become a god sort of defeats the point of killing the last of the gods and there is no assurance that I wouldn’t become just as bad as what I was trying to defeat in the process.”
Itina raised her hand and I left her speak, “Wait, let me get this right. You are planning to kill the Betrayer by yourself? Are you insane? The loyal have fought for a hundred years against the betray and have been unable to actually kill him or even get close to killing him. What makes your think that you have any better chance of killing him then the Loyal have had these years.”
“Because I was an Apostate of Zillk. One of his roles is the ferryman who watches those die and pass on. One hundred years ago it was his blade that killed the Slayer. And since then the Slayer’s spirit had been waiting for the right person and the right opportunity to support somebody trying to kill the Betrayer and I just happen to be that power.”
Itina stood with her chair falling backward. She was angry, more then I had expected. “To think I expected something from you. You have a little success and then you think you can claim that the Slayer is guiding your actions. Your arrogance knows know bounds. To defile the Slayer’s name like that is… is….” Her face was getting red.
“Treating me like a god pathetic.” I head the Slayer speaking and thought nothing off it. However the others seemed to have a different reaction. Itina just stopped talking her mouth hanging open aimlessly. Drarak had dropped him mug of ale and it was seeping across the floor. Risgar was just staring wide eyed and Undir has jumped visibly. No quite making sense of their reactions I turned and looked over my shoulder. There behind my is a transparent gray wearing the dark black cloak was the Slayer.
I worked my mouth for a second before finally putting together the words. “I don’t know if you know but you seem to be visible to everybody.”
“I, I am?” She too sounded a little bit surprised and I had thought that nothing surprised the Slayer. She reached up and tugged at the clasp of the cloak that she was wearing, “Then I suppose that this must be responsible. The Key of the Ferryman is indeed mysterious.”
There was a silence around the table before I finally tried to break the confusion, “I would like all of you to meet the ghost of the Slayer. I have already introduced her to you after I meet you but this is your first time meeting her.”
Itina tried to sit down before finding that her chair had tipped over. She managed to pull it up and sit down. She was still in a state of shock but she mutter, “But that is impossible. The Slayer is dead and ghosts are the things of legends.”
“Doing the impossible is my specialty so I’d rather say that I’m real and that I’m here. Of course I’m dead but that is part of being a ghost. Plus I was a legend in life, why not continue to be a legend in death.” Said the Slayer.
Risgar stood and pointed at the Slayer, “Even if you are a ghost, how do we know that you are the ghost of the Slayer? Maybe an agent of the Betrayer sent to pretend to be the Slayer and then betray us once we have all fallen for your trick.”
Itina was the one who responded however, “No, if that is the ghost of anyone that is the ghost of the Slayer. There are secret painting that the Loyal keep. Records that we have desperately kept out of the Betrayer’s hands. One of those paintings was of the Slayer and this is how she looked.” Itina kelt down in front of the ghostly image of the Slayer and said, “I apologize for doubting your messenger. To think that the Slayer would return to us after a hundred years. We truly are blessed.”
The Slayer shook her head again, “No, you are not blessed, you are strong. Do not treat me like one of the gods that I tried so hard to kill.”
Itina stayed on the floor for a moment before finally looked up at the Slayer and then pulling herself to her feet. “Yes, of course, I apologize. I was not thinking.”
“Do not trouble yourself overly about it. I am nothing more then a ghost now, able to watch and advise but I can do nothing to effect the world.” She reached down and tried to pick up the mug of ale that was sitting in front of me. Her fingers were wispy and indistinct and they passed through the mug as if she wasn’t there. “It is only the Key of the Ferryman that even lets you see me at all.”
“The Key of the Ferryman? That is that?” Asked Drarak.
“Ah, yes.” I said. “I haven’t finished my explanation. We got sidetracked by discussions about the Slayer. With the Slayer’s help I want to actually kill the Betrayer. And to do that I needed something beyond just the power of ZIllk and I needed it without becoming a god myself. My idea was to change how the powers worked fundamentally.”
I continued, “So when I was pressed against the wall in the battle against the rebel Apostate I was forced to attempt doing it. My idea was to break apart Zillk’s power. So using the his power over cold I frozen the golden ring that I was using as a conduit. With the metal extremely cold I broke it.”
“But that wouldn’t effect Zillk’s power would it?” Asked Drarak.
“Now normally but I held onto his power during this entire process. When the ring broke so did the conduit that connected me to his power. It was difficult to hold onto his power while the conduit was getting broken. Then I did something incredibly dangerous which in retrospect I am very glad did not kill me. I pulled Zillk’s power through the broken shards of the conduit.”
“And that is possible?” Said Undir.
“Yes, dangerous but possible. The main problem was that to accomplish what I wanted I had to pull in all of Zillk’s power. All of it.”
“That’s, that’s insane. Holding all of the power of a god inside you. You should have died.” Said Itina.
“I almost did.” I held up my arm and rolled down my sleeve. It was still covered in broken cracks of skin which had been partially bandaged. There was also black lines in my veins, although that was caused my the river of death. “My body froze and burned at the same time and I almost burst from all that energy. Just me holding it shook the earth and caused mirages in the air. But it was worth it, by pulling all of Zillk’s power out through the broken shards of the conduit I was able to break apart and separate his power.”
I continued, “I was holding six shards of Zillk’s power inside me and once I had them all I released them one by one. These six shards are what we are calling Keys. A kind of power that is different then that of an Apostate. This is because part of what I did when I separated Zillk’s power is dispose of the remaining parts of his personality that was tainting his power. And that is the story of what I did with Zillk’s power. With the new Keys I created I do not need a conduit to access them, I just need to call out for them and they answer.”
There was a heavy silence in the room as everybody took it what I had just explained to them. Finally it was Itina who spoke, “This you power, these Keys, how do you use them. If they are no longer part of a god then you could teach somebody else to us them.”
“I believe so. After all I accidentally caused the Slayer to understand how the Key of the Ferryman. After I broke apart Zillk’s power it also broke her connection to our world so I was forced to use the Key of the Ferryman to go and find her ghost again. Using it I give her the cloak that she is wearing and somehow caused her to know how to use the Key of the Ferryman. However I do now know exactly how to teach somebody to use one of the Keys, in fact I’m not certain I understand how they work.”
“However I do have the next step planned.” I had their attention as I spoke. I pulled out the two things that I had hidden away in my belt pouch. A golden bracelet and a golden necklace that I had taken from two of the Apostates at the rebel camp. I could see the Slayer smiling out of the corner of my eye and Undir gasped.
“No, you can’t possibly going to…” She looked afraid and horrified, “You can’t try to use the powers of another god. An Apostate can’t use the powers of two gods or they will die.”
I smiled, “Except that I am no longer an Apostate. I have no conduit, and the powers of Zillk are gone. I don’t know for certain if that is enough but it is enough to make me willing to try. My goal is to do to all of the gods what I did to Zillk, to turn all of their abilities into Keys. And if what the Slayer taught me is correct these are the symbols of Quell, the Deepen of the Ocean and Ulland, the Breaker of Earth. There were 36 gods in the pantheon excluding the Betrayer. I don’t know if I will get them all before I confront the Betrayer but the more Keys that are freed I think the better that my chances are.”
Risgar make a reaching motion as it toward a hammer at his side that wasn’t there, “Ours as well?” He asked.
“If I can figure out how to teach someone to use the Keys then yes. I also do not know what happens to other Apostates of the same god when I turn it into Keys. I automatically know how to use the Keys that I freed from Zillk but I don’t know if that is because I was an Apostate of Zillk or if it was because I created the Keys. That is one of the things I plan on testing.”
Itina spoke again, “These Keys and you changing how the powers of the gods work. Even if it is not enough to kill the Betrayer on its own it still might be enough to change this shadow war in our favor. If you can learn how to teach the use of the Keys we will have a distinct magical advantage against the agents of the Betrayer.”
“That is also my hope.” I said.
It was several days later when I finally was able to try another one of the tests. It had taken that long for me to mostly recover from my injures. My arm still wasn’t wholly better but I could move it again. The blackness in my veins wasn’t going away but the cracked skin had begun to scab over and I was finally able to return to training.
I had secluded myself in the woods outside of the capitol far away from where any prying eyes might be able to see. I wasn’t alone because I had the Slayer watching me. I also had Undir watching because she had been put in charging of watching how I used the Keys and trying to figure out how they worked.
I had brought the bracelet of Quell with me. It was going to be my first real technical test in trying to create keys. The last time had been in the heat of the moment and I only partially remembered how I channeled those forces. Yet before that I went through the other Keys that I had. One by one I let them fill me, tried to understand them, and then finally let them go again. Once I had slowly gone through all of them it was time for the real test.
I placed the bracelet on my arm and reached out toward it with my mystical senses. As first I felt nothing and was afraid that I wouldn’t be able to access Quell’s power. Then when I was least expecting it the power rushed into me forcefully and violently. I only barely managed to avoid getting overwhelmed by it long enough to rip the bracelet off my arm and throw it a few feet away from me. Once I had done that the power vanished and I no longer had to fight for my life against the torrent.
“Are you alright? What happened?” Asked the concerned voice of Undir.
“Quell was a lot more forceful then I expected. I was expecting Quell to be more like Zillk. Zillk’s personalilty and risk was a lot more insidious, tempting me slowly to become more like him. Quell was different, more aggressive, trying to force everything onto me. Probably easier to deal with if you are prepared but it could really do a number on somebody that wasn’t expecting it.
“I see” She said, “Tistral the Ravenborn is more like Zillk that way. You find yourself acting strange with no explanation. Once I remove the conduit and think back on it I realize that it is Tistral’s influence but while it is happening I can’t tell.”
“Zillk was a little more obvious then that but his was usually about revenge and despair so it was easier to pick out which were his personality and which was my own.” Having recovered myself I walked over to the bracelet and picked it up again. I held back the power which I now felt from it, “But is seems that I now count as an Apostate of Quell. Simply touching the conduit is causing the power to fight against my will. I had better work fast to dispose of that violent personality.”
I opened slightly to the power of Quell and I felt it force into me. I fought back against the tide while I reached out toward the Key of Winter. However I couldn’t grasp it, with the power of Quell pushing in on me I couldn’t keep a hold on the Key of Winter. I had to grimace and said to Undir. “I’m afraid I can’t do this alone. I need you to take my sword and brake the bracelet. I can’t seem to use the Keys while facing down Quell’s power.”
She looked concerned but she nodded and pulled the sword from my belt. “Hold still.” She said as she drew the sword back. It was difficult to do that will the power of Quell pushing in on my but I did all that I could to hold still. She brought down the sword on the center of the bracelet, right where the symbol of Quell was. Then I felt that strange sensation again, that of my connection to the god beginning to break.
I knew that was my moment to pull. Like before I pulled all the power of Quell through the broken pieces of the bracelet. I began to sweat in pain and concentration but even with that it still wasn’t as painful as it had been with Zillk. The power of Quell tried to rush and pour into me so it was easy to drag it out. There also wasn’t as much of it as there was for Zillk. Quell wasn’t as power as Zillk had been. I was able to contain all of Quells power without cracking the earth or shattering the air. Some of my scabs broke open once again but there were no new injuries appearing on me.
Once I contained the energies I began breaking it off into different Keys. Quell wasn’t as powerful as Zillk so I only had to created three Keys from that power. As I released the last of them I was then left with the whirlpool of personality that was all that remained of Quell. It was difficult to throw it away and it didn’t want to leave me. With the remaining powers gone I reached for the Key of the Ferryman and used it to pry the remaining personality of Quell out of me and into the dark waters of death. I didn’t know if that really counted as killing the gods again but it did deal with it.
Finally panting I found myself laying on the ground looking toward the sky. I was tired and exhausted.
“Are you alright?” Asked Undir.
I nodded and turned my head to look at her. “I’ve dealt with Quell. Although I don’t think I would also be able to do Ulland today. I don’t know if I could resist another god like Quell or have enough energy left to break apart their power into Keys.”
“I understand. Also it would be unwise to stay around here and try that. This might not have been as noticeable as it was with Zillk but I’m sure people could see the strange ripples of water miles away. We had best return to the base so that we will not be found.”
I tried to pull myself up but my muscles just wouldn’t listen to me. “I don’t know if I can stand by myself after that, you many need to help me get back to the base.”
The Slayer chuckled and said, “You’re just lazy.”
Undir smiled too but she kelt down and helped me stand up. Once she had gotten me to my feet I could basically stand although I needed her shoulder to help me walk. I could also feel the three news Keys out there just beyond my reach, until I called for them. I knew that one of them was the Key of Water. The other two still felt mysterious to me. When breaking apart the Keys I felt like I understood them but that was while I was still holding the personality of Quell. With that gone I didn’t know what they did, only that they had felt right when I made them.
I asked Undir, “Did watching me help you understand what I was doing or how Keys work?”
Undir shook her head, “I feel like I knew what I was looking at but it doesn’t make how to use them any clearer. Maybe if you tried to explain how they worked?”
I pondered that thought. Finally I said, “I’m not quiet certain how to start the explanation. Slayer, how did it feel when you gains the powers of the Key of the Ferryman?”
“I didn’t really do anything to gain the powers of the Key of the Ferryman. After you gave me this cloak I just felt the Key enter me from then on I could just feel the Key just outside my thoughts. Now whenever I want to access it it is there and all I need to do is will it to help me.”
“They way you feel the Keys sounds similar to my own. I can feel them just outside of my grasp but when I mentally call out for them they are there and I feel them filling me with their power. Except that I can feel all of the ones that I created and you can only feel the Key of the Ferryman.”
Undir furrowed her brow, “Maybe it was because you gave her access to the Key. Maybe if you did something similar to someone else that person would be able to access that Key.”
“That is possible, there is also another problem that Quell made me consider. It is possible that Apostates can not use the powers of the Keys. While I was had Quell’s power inside me I was not able to access the Key of Winter. It could have been that Quell was just so forceful that I couldn’t do anything else while resisting Quell, I would need to test that again before I’m certain that it works that way. At the very least I don’t think the powers of the Keys and Apostates can be used at the same time.”
“Still an Apostate who is not holding their Conduit should be able to use the Keys?”
“Probably.” I said, “Now how to give somebody access to the Keys like I did the Slayer.” I looked at my black veined arm which had still not recovered from being dipped in that dark lake. “The way I did it with the Slayer is not really sustainable.”
“Because of your arm?” Asked Undir. I hadn’t really told anybody but I figured I must be obvious with the way looked or grabbed at my arm when I talked about in.
I nodded, “Yes, however attempting something weaker and on a smaller scale might work. I’m willing to try if you want me to. Although it might attract some attention so we should not do it at the base.”
She hesitated and then said, “Yes, I would like to try it. However we should wait. I wouldn’t want you to make a mistake because you are too tired after breaking apart a god into Keys. Maybe once you have rested up some then we can try.”
That made sense and thus the conversation stopped and we walked back to the base talking about more mundane things. The Slayer joined in our talks and it still felt unusual, to have anybody else talking to the Slayer with me. Her control over the Key of the Ferryman had gotten better in the few days since she had acquired it. Her form had solidified a great deal and she looked a lot more normal. Unless you were really looking for it she almost looked like a real person.
Of course she could not touch anything but she was entirely opaque now and unless you concentrated at the edges of her cloak or her hair you would not notice the foggy edged which showed that she was not of this world. The illusion broke completely if she passed through something however and it took her a few moments to completely reform everything after such an encounter.
We returned to the base and I reported the results changing Quell’s power into Keys. It was going pretty well and while it did improve my own versatility it still wouldn’t be enough until I figured out how to teach other people to use those powers.
A few days later I had recovered once again and it was time to try and teach somebody how to use a Key. Undir had been the first to volunteer to learn and so I was taking her out into the woods. We weren’t alone because the Slayer was coming with me. I had seen her around less recently because she had been able to travel with the others and on a couple of occasions she had even walked through the town by herself.
The place in the forest that we were heading too was no where close to where I had broken about Quell but like most of the forest it was empty and there was nobody nearby to notice. My plan was to teach her out to use the Key of Swords, the part of Zillk that was a master of using the sword. It wasn’t an obvious part of Zillk’s domain but all of the stories about his also spoke of his skill with the sword so I guess it was only natural.
The first stage was casual combat between me and Undir. We used dull training swords. They would still hurt immensely if you got hit by them but we were unlikely to kill each other with them. Undir was fairly skilled with the sword and had obviously had training and when I was just relying on my own training she was clearly superior.
“Alright, you have seen how good I am with a sword. Now I am going to use the Key of Swords.” I pulled it into myself and the blade focused in my mind. It may have been blunt but it was still a sword. Then Undir attacked me again and for the next couple of minutes I blocked her sword effortlessly and began my own attack. She was hard pressed to defend herself and had they been real swords I would have killed her several times over.
After five more minutes of me beating her she collapsed on the ground panting. I had barely broken a sweat. I continued my explanation, “As you can see the Key of Swords makes you a nearly undefeatable force with a sword. It should also be noted that I was holding back to prevent hurting you any more then I had to.”
She gasped, “What was holding back? I think my arm is numb.”
“This isn’t a Key for nothing. From my understanding my swordplay is perfect and even against a master swordsman I would likely prove victorious. Against opponents of that caliber it would come down to endurance, the first person to tire would be the person who lost.”
“I hadn’t thought of the Key of Swords as that powerful but now that I have fought against it that power is terrifying. You have a perfect defense. Do you know how well it works against multiple opponents.” Said the Slayer.
“It does contain techniques of fighting multiple opponents.” I said, that knowledge was inside the Key alway with many other applications of the blade. “Of course that is more difficult though. Against poorly trained soldiers I could hold off many of them but three or four skilled opponents is impossible to deal with alone for any extended period of time.”
Undir nodded still laying on the ground trying to catch her breath. “So I’ve seen the Key is use and I think I understand how it functions. How do you plan on teaching me to us it.”
“I’m still trying to explain it. You know how training with the sword drills the different forms into your mind such that when your life is in danger in battle you don’t think, your body just reacts and effortless moves into that form. Or at least that is the standard theory.”
“Yeah, practice makes the swordsman they say.”
“The same is mostly true for the Key. Holding onto it grants all those forms to you like you have done them a thousand time, like they were the most natural things in the world. However that is not the only thing. It also contains countless amounts of experience, understanding of the forms and which forms go well together. Endless iterations of possible moves going on forever. It also has other things, faints, counters to them, how to fight against dirty tricks, how to cut arrows out of the air, breathing practices to keep you calm. All of this at the tip of your mind and you never think about it, everything just seems natural.” These things came to my mind as I tried to explain them, things that I never knew that the Key was capable.
“So basically it makes you the most experianced swordsman in the world?” She asked.
I nodded, “Yes, but there are things that it does not do. I does not make you physically stronger and it does not make you able to last longer in a battle of endurance. For those things you still need the standard training.”
“Could have fooled me. You barely seemed winded there.” Said Undir.
“That was because it showed me how to conserve my energy. Against a better then average user like yourself I had no trouble using barely any energy to defeat you.”
“Great, the Key makes me look like an idea.” She commented.
“It makes almost everybody look like an idiot, I doubt there are a dozen swordsman in the country that could fight against it and have a chance of winning.” I took a breath, “None of the Keys are weak, each one contains immense power. When the power was wrapped up in the power of a god it was…” I tried to think of a good word, “mixed, the keys are the pure expression of part of a god’s power.”
Undir stood back up and brushed the dirt off her pants, “So what is the next step? How am I going to learn to use that Key.”
I shook my head, “No quiet certain yet but I have a couple of theories that I want to test. However none of them are very pleasant.”
“I think you need to understand the power of the Key fully before you can access it. Explaining it is all well and good but that only partially does it credit. I understand them because I am the one that made them and the Slayer understands the Key of the Gatekeeper because she is a ghost.”
“So what is the plan?”
“Two things. If this is true then it would be possible to teach somebody how to use it through strenuous training. However I do not have any experience in doing that for the Keys and that would likely takes a long time, maybe months. However I think that trying to force the power into someone’s body while they are in the appropriate mental state to accept it will trigger the same understanding.”
“Force the power into them?”
“The power of the Key fills me when I access it, that is the best way to explain it.” I said.
The Slayer supported me, “That is about how I feel with the Key of the Ferryman.”
“Yes,” I said, “I could probably bleed that energy out into somebody else but that might not take.”
“Do you want to try it?”
“I already did, a couple of times during our fight. I pushed the energy into you but it didn’t stick.”
“You did? I didn’t feel anything?” Said Undir in surprise.
“Not that surprising. The Key of Swords doesn’t do much outside my body when I push out the energy. It is more an internal Key. Had I tried this with the Key of Winder I might have frozen you solid. That is why I chose this Key to start with, less chance of having something horrible go wrong.”
I said, “So if normally the power wouldn’t stick it would require a catalyst, some condition for it to work. If that theory is right then when I gave the Slayer the cloak it contained an aspect of the Key and it entered her some way.”
“What sounds a bit uncertain.”
“I know, it also makes the Keys potentially dangerous. It might be possible for an opponent to learn how to use a Key simply because it was the right conditions when you used it on them. Which is likely possible given my desires when I first tried and created the keys.”
“So what is the next step?”
“I’m going to stab you.”
“Stab me?” It sounded uncertain, confused.
“Yes, stab you. It is the Key of Swords, nothing is more connected to it then stab wound, that is the purpose of using a sword after all, to cut your opponent.”
“You want to stab me with a sword to teach me magic. What if it doesn’t work.”
“Then I will be very sorry and will have to think of another way to teach you how to use it.”
“That sounds really dangerous and painful.”
“Yes, but it might be the fastest way to learn.”
“You sound doubtful.”
“I’ve never done this before. I just think it is the more likely way to do it.”
Undir looked from me to the Slayer, “What do you think of his insane idea to stab me.”
The Slayer considered the question then said, “I agree with him, even if it turns out not to be the more effective way to learn how to use a Key I think that it will be a quick and effective method. If it works.”
“If… great, that sounds painful.”
I pulled out a knife, “It will be unfortunately. On the bright side the Key of Swords knows where all the critical location on a human are so I can make sure to avoid them.”
“A small cut won’t be enough?”
“Do you want to be cut a dozen times so that I figure out the right level of injury?”
“I’d rather not be hurt at all actually but I don’t know if that will work.”
“Do you want me to stab you or not?”
“All right, go ahead.” She then gritted her teeth and pulled in her breath.
I looked over at the pile of gear to make sure that her conduit was sitting over there. I still didn’t know the consequences of trying to use the powers of an Apostate with those of the Keys. Once I had confirmed that she did not have it I turned to Undir with the dagger.
Then I stabbed her. I made sure to avoid and critical places but it was a deep wound. As the blade sunk into her I called upon the Key of Swords. I gathered the power inside of me and then, well the best explanation was that I channeled it through the dagger. I pushed it into her and I could hear her scream in pain. The dagger sunk deeper into her and I pushed with it and the power.
As it reached the hilt in a messy way I pushed the remaining power into it and then I released my grasp on it leaving the power in the dagger. I let go with my hands and stepped back. Undir was shuttering, partially from the pain but there was something else there too, I could feel the power coursing from the blade into her.
“Grab it.” I told her. She must have been in immense pain from the wound but she must have been able to hear me because she reached up with her hands and grabbed the blade. She pulled it out slowly and it was dripping with her blood.
The wound was dangerous and the blood began to stream everywhere. I opened myself to the Key of Water and used it to hold back her blood so that she wouldn’t die of blood loss. Controlling blood was tricky with the Key but it was able to do something simple like prevent someone from losing blood.
Undir used her other hand to clutch at the wound while raising the dagger to eye level. She looked at the blade and I could feel the Key of Swords flowing through her. It wasn’t dissipating like I had feared that it would. Then she said wonderingly, “I can feel it, this strange power, very different from that of an Apostate.” She then grimaced, “But dear dead gods does this hurt. Did you really have to push it in so far.”
“Probably, it feels like you are successfully held onto the Key. Mainly I’m just glad that stabbing you was useful. It would have been awful if I did all that and stabbed you only to have it fail.”
“I would have never let you live that down.” She grimaced, “Probably won’t let you live it down anyways. Are you the reason that my blood isn’t pouring everywhere.”
I nodded, “Sure, it is the Key of Water that belonged to Quell. I’m mainly just preventing it from leaving your body. You will still want to bandage it up and have it properly taken care of.”
“Your still a jerk for stabbing me.” Then she did a painful looking smile, “Are you ready for round two. I might be able to beat you if we fought again.”
I shook my head, “Not with that wound you wouldn’t. If I had to concentrate on fighting you I wouldn’t be able to hold your blood in and doing strenuous exercise with that wound is not recommended.”
The Slayer looked over us and commented, “He’s right, as much as you should get revenge on the bastard that stabbed you I recommend that you wait until you recover. You wouldn’t want to join me in dead any earlier then you have to.”
Undir nodded, “Sure, and considering how much pain I’m in I could really do with I nice ale or something. Probably a nap too.” She hobbled over toward her pile of stuff that we had placed to one side and then began picking things up.
I realized what was happening too late and called out, “No wait.” Just after she picked up the conduit of Tistral. It began to smoke and Undir screamed. I had been worried that would happen if a Key user tried to access a Conduit. She was still holding onto the Key of Swords too. I rushed to her side and caught her before she collapsed to the ground. I didn’t want to release the Key of Water while Undir was in this state but I had to do something.
I gritted my teeth and pulled the conduit from her hands. It was literally painful to touch and it felt like it burned my hand as I held it. I could feel the power inside it trying to attack me. Somehow it was also accepting me as an Apostate so I could feel it interfering with me Key. It was intense I and it felt hard to move. I wanted to toss it away but I couldn’t seem to control my body.
All I could managed was commanding the Key of Water. I pulled a thin strand of blood from Undir and focused it into a razor sharp edge. The necklace then shattered into a multitude of pieces. Trying not to let go of the Key of Water I pulled the power out of Tistral’s conduit. It was horrible, worse then it had been with Quell. I almost lost control several times because I had trouble holding both the Key of Water and Tistral’s power at the same time. Finally I managed to gain control over the storming power.
Once I finally held it I was able to relax. I could feel Undir’s pained gaze on me and I reached out shakily toward her. “This power is more rightfully yours. You try and old it.” I touched her skin and let the all the built of power of Tistral flow out of me and into her. I could feel the Keys leave me one by one I as I released them. Finally I was just left holding what remained of Tistral’s personality and I disposed of that with the Key of the Ferryman.
I was still holding the Key of Water and somehow it felt light and easy to carry after all that had happened. I could feel the Keys inside Undir and I could also feel them still outside of my reach. Those new Keys made from the power of Tistral the Ravenborn were there along with the rest of them
“We need to go back quickly.” I said.
She was still reeling from all the power that was inside her but she muttered, “Why what’s wrong?”
“The Key of…” I paused to figure out a name for it, “Of Concealment, part of Tistral’s power, when I broke apart the power I understood. The ward that you set up back at the base, it has unfortunately been unraveled and will have to be remade anew with the Key of Concealment. If the others don’t realize it.”
The Slayer tisked, “Don’t worry. I’m on it. They will know what happened and I’ll make sure none of them leave or enter the base until you two can get back to repair it.” And then she vanished, disappearing into a puff of fog and mist.
“Sometimes she is just a little too convenient. However we still need to get out of here. That definitely wasn’t subtle and you were screaming a fair bit before that so if anybody is around they will probably be checking out this place.” I lifted her up and helped her walk out of the woods.
Once we had gone a little ways we stopped and I helped her bandage her wounds with part of my coat. It wasn’t the best solution but it would prevent us from being suspicious when entering the town.
“Can you use the Key of Concealment? If we could enter the city without attracting any attention what would be useful. I can try if you are not able to but it you may be more familiar with it then me.” I said.
She nodded, “I think I can, although now that it had become a Key I’m not certain if it will function the same way.”
I went along with her and held both the Key of Water and the Key of Concealment. I could feel her using the Key as we entered the city. I could feel the cloak that she had cast over us. It was complicated and while it wouldn’t prevent us from being seen it would make it so that nobody would think that we were unusual. The construct felt understandable to me while I held the Key but I could see that she had much more practice at this sort of stuff then me.
Nobody gave us a second look as we walked through the capitol and one of us was obviously very wounded. We reached the bass and stood a fair bit outside it. I reached out toward the Key of the Ferryman and held it along with the other two Keys. While I was doing that I noticed that it was easier then it had been before to hold more then one Key at a time.
“Slayer, are you there.” I called out for her.
There was nothing visible but I heard her voice say, “Yes, I’m here. Itinal and Drarak are in the base and they know of what happened. I don’t think the place is currently being watched but you might want to be careful.”
“We are currently concealed but somebody still might notice if we enter the building.”
Undir shook her head, “We should be fine, people might notice but nobody will think twice about it.”
I nodded and we approached the building. I pushed open the door for Undir and we entered. Drarak was sitting in the meeting room when we arrived and he helped me set Undir down on the chair. “Are you alright Undir?” He asked, “Did everything work out.”
She shook her head, still in pain, “Damn knife wound feels ten types of painful. But it worked, Nick managed to show me how to use the Key of Swords. Unfortunately it reacted badly the Tistral and Nick needed to liberate those powers too. In better news it seems that he managed to show me how to use those too, and this time without having to stab me.”
“As much as I would like to talk about what happened. We should probably get the ward over this place functioning again. Do you need my help setting it up?”
She nodded, “While I could do it myself the first time I did it it took me all day. I would be much faster if I had another person helping me.”
I help a little hold on the Key of Water to keep her from bleeding to death and then grasped the Key of Concealment. “I’ll try to follow your lead if you want to explain.”
She nodded and began to work the concealing magic. I kept up as best as I could, reinforcing the things she did and lending my strength to her. It was a complicated working with layers of protection which not only conceal the place from detection but also prevents it from being detected from the outside by others with the same sort of power.
After several hours of working we finally managed to complete it. The last part was tying it down so that it would remain long after we had finished. By my estimation it would only need repair every few months and even then would retain most of its potency for most of a year.
After we were done I laid back in the chair and relaxed, “That was educational. I don’t think I’ve done anything that complicated before. Breaking apart a gods power is hard and requires immense concentration but it doesn’t have that kind of delicate touch.
I considered how the power had been used, that complicated lasting power what had been created. The Key was well tuned for making lasting enchantments but I could probably apply the same principles to other Keys, at least in theory.
I concentrated on the Key of Water and what I had done to plug Undir’s wound. I couldn’t keep it up forever in its current state, eventually I would need to sleep and that would dispel it. I spent a couple of minutes toying with it until I got something that I liked. It was now bound together so that it wouldn’t instantly dispel.
It wasn’t quite the work of are we had made for the base but it was sturdy enough. My rough estimation was that it would last a day or two before it would need repair. Good enough for amateur work with a power that I was inexperienced with.
Once I was done with that it was time for me to rest. I had broken yet another god into Keys and each time was exhausting even if they were easier then it was for Zillk. I returned to my bed and slept for a long while. I returned to that dream state where I could decide what happened in my dreams. The Slayer was not there to begin with but she joined me for some time during it. Now that she was no longer just tied to me she could do something other then dream while I was sleep.
After some time it was the Slayer who arrived again and said, “Itina needs you to wake up. There is new news and another mission that needs to be done. She wants to deliver the instructions personally so she is going to wake you up.”
I nodded and willed myself wake. Moments later I was laying on the bed again. The Slayer materialize next to me and I began to get up. There was a knock on my door and I said, “Yes, I’m awake. The Slayer told me what is happening. I’ll be out in a few minutes.”
“Told you what was happening? How could she wake you?” Asked Itina from the other side of the door.
“I’m not certain if I mentioned it but she is capable of entering my dreams and speaking with me there. It was there that she told me and then I woke myself up.”
“I see. At least your awake. I would like you in the meeting room in a few minutes to discuss things.”
“I’ll be there soon.” I said and then Itina was gone. I got out of bed and looked at the Slayer. It really didn’t matter but she graciously disappeared while I changed my clothes. Once I was done I left the room and found the Slayer outside waiting for me. Together we walked to the meeting room.
Everybody was already there. Risgar, Undir, and Drarak were wearing their mission equipment already. I didn’t have anything special on but I realized that at this point I didn’t need anything else. Not needing a conduit and having many Keys at my disposal made it very easy for me to be ready anywhere without anybody realizing it.
I took my seat near the others and turned to look at Itina who was standing near the head of the table. Once I was there she clapped her hands to signal that the meeting had begun. “Alright everyone. We have a mission and some news.”
She looked at me and then continued, “The news is good. I’ve received reports about Apostates, there is some news that some Apostates are beginning to lose their powers. In particular Apostates of Quell have lost there powers and I spread a rumor that our Apostate of Tistral has lost her power too.”
“So making Keys does deprive Apostates who use that power from the ability to access those powers.” I said.
Itina nodded, “Yes indeed. Also your experiment with Undir made us know that at least one person who is capable of using the powers of an Apostate can also learn how to us the new Keys after you create them. That will let us be more aggressive at converting the powers of Apostates into Keys. Also the Keys seem to individually be more powerful then they were in the hands of the gods.”
“I believe that is because they are more pure.” I said.
“Yes, that is likely the case. This gives us an unprecedented advantage against the Betrayer. The second piece of information is that another cell of the Loyal has identified one of the Betrayer’s High Priests.”
Drarak whistled, “A high priest. How long has it been since we have last identifies one of those. Do you think it is for real or do you think that it is a trap?”
“Actually I think it is both. I think the Betrayer has an inkling of what we are doing and wants to stop it before it becomes a problem. So he is sacrificing one of his High Priests as bait to lure us into a trap.”
I raised my hand, “High Priests? I know that the word used to mean those that served the gods before they were killed but what does that mean in this age.”
“Priests of the Betrayer are those people that he directly communicates with. They know who he is and exactly what they are serving. Some of them are just Apostates who think it is better to cast in their lot with the Betrayer then to try and fight him. High Priests are something different entirely. You can think of them as Apostates to a Living God. He has imbued them with a lot of power and they are his main pawns. Only they know real information about the Betrayer’s real hiding place.”
“So if we captured the High Priest we could force him to tell us?” I asked.
“Not that simple. The High Priests are usually absolutely loyal to him. Simply capturing one won’t be enough to identify his hiding place. However the Loyal have several Apostates who specialize in forcing people to devulge information even if they do not want to. But yes, capturing him alive would be the best that we could hope for. It might not be possible however because the last High Priest that we captured, three years ago, killed himself before he could be questioned.”
‘Then capturing a newly discovered one might be difficult.”
“Indeed, but even if we fail to capture him it is still an advantage. As far as we can tell the power of the Betrayer is limited and he can only empower so many High Priests at a time. It also seems to take time for him to train a replacement after one of them is killed. Even if we can not capture the High Priest killing one will temporarily weaken the Betrayer.”
She turned her gaze toward me, “I still think that trying to kill the Betrayer is an extremely difficult task, even if we do now have the Ghost of the Slayer on our side. Locating the Betrayer will be the first important task for us, something that we have failed to do for a thousand years. If you really think that we can kill the Betrayer then you need to make sure we capture the High Priest. We may not get another chance like this one for years.”
“So who is the High Priest that you discovered.” I asked.
“It was the one that organized the rebel army. A noble named Lord Slinder.”
I made a startled sound of surprised, “Lord Slinder? That Lord Slinder.” I paused trying to figure out the repercussions. If he is a High Priest then he must have been at least partially responsible for the orc invasion. He was one of the nobles that guarded one of the banks. I talked with him just before I was attacked by an orc Apostate. So, everything that happened on that bank was his doing.
“You know the man?” Asked Itina.
“A bit, however if he is a High Priest of the Betrayer he must have been one of the organizers behind the orc invasion as well.”
“The problems we are dealing with right now are probably commands he is doing at the whim of the Betrayer.” Said Itina, “Since he had failed at the rebellion against the king he must have become more expendable. Perfect bait for a trap.”
Drarak nodded, “Indeed, the Betrayer must know how much we would want to stop the High Priests.”
“So where is he located?” I asked.
“His own estates. My intel says that he had been located near the city and indirectly in command of the rebel armies. Now that that has failed he has returned to his estates. He may not even know that his identity has been compromised but other of the Betrayor’s agents certain do. I wanted us to begin the journey immediately so that we can get there before he knows we are on his trail.”
We all nodded in agreement, even the Slayer. Itina then told us that we would be leaving in the hour and that anything you wanted you should grab quickly. It took me little time to pack, mainly a bag full of clothes. When I was done I met the others across the street from the shop. Itina was joining us, at least for the journey and she had purchases some horses.
It would take us a few days of hard riding to get to Lord Slinder’s estates. My main duty on the journey was to finish the conversion of Apostate’s into Keys. With an Apostate nearby I was able to channel the broken Keys into them after I was done and they could learn the Keys they were most familiar with.
Itina was first because her Wellis, the Hoarder of Knowledge, was instrumental in giving us information. With several successful processes already complete it was difficult but not dangerous to deal with her’s. Bruko and Osumu followed after the next day and that last day of riding was exhausting for me. That last night I was allowed to sleep without having a guard duty because of my exhaustion.
Then we had arrived at Lord Slinder’s estate.